US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: 31 Oct 2007
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
October 31, 2007
US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: 31 Oct 2007
Karen Hughes' Resignation / Successor
Town Hall Meeting on Foreign Service Directed Assignments
Secretary Rice's Concern and Support for Foreign Service Officers
Secretaries Rice and Gates' Meeting /
Discussion of Personal Security Contractors
Strategic and Tactical Level Coordination / Working Group
Issue of Control and Standard of Protection for Contractors
Query on Blackwater Immunity Issue / Contact with DOD and DOJ
Acquittal of Madrid Bombing Suspect
Comparisons to Case in Yemen of Jamal al-Badawi
Secretary's Meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Last Monday
Status of New Sanctions / Effect on
Companies / Iran Sanctions Act
Reputational Risks and Legal Penalties for Companies Investing with Designees
P-5+1 Political Directors Meeting on Friday
No Plans for Further Talks with U.S. on Iraq at this Point
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov's Visit to Iran
Taliban Offensive Near Kandahar / Strength of Governing Institutions
U.S. View on Unilateral Incursions into Iraq
Secretary's Upcoming Travel
North Korean Ship Attacked by Pirates off Somali Coast / U.S. Naval Assistance
Composition of Disablement Team
Greater Israeli Military Activity in Gaza
Reports of Israel Cutting Off Electricity and Fuel to Gaza
Extradition of Kyung Joon Kim
12:47 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Nothing to start off with, so we can get right into your questions. Who wants to start?
QUESTION: Before we get into policy kind of --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: -- can I just ask one question about Karen Hughes?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: The -- who is going to be succeeding her or has that decision not been made yet?
MR. MCCORMACK: It hasn't been decided yet. There will be a personnel process search and that is ongoing now.
QUESTION: The plan is definitely to fill it with another person who's not just in an acting --
MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, I don't anticipate that there will be an acting, but there is an intent to fill it on a permanent basis, to have an nominee and go through the confirmation process.
QUESTION: Okay. A different subject. Yesterday I was under the impression from both the Pentagon and from here that the -- about the lunch that the Secretary had with Secretary Gates, I was under the impression that a decision was not made to have these convoys come under full military control and yet I read this morning in a certain newspaper that that is, in fact, what happened. Can you tell us --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, your understanding is correct. I can't account for all the news reports out there, but Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates had a good lunch. They talked about the issue of personal security contractors in Iraq, how to have better strategic level coordination between DOD and the State Department so that we can fulfill two conditions. One: that we protect our people and that we protect our people the best that we can. The other condition is that we do that and accomplish that mission in such a way that we don't undermine our overall goals and strategic objectives in Iraq. Clearly, when we have an incident like the one that occurred on September 16th, that -- aside from the tragic loss of innocent life, that undermines our goals, our strategic objectives in Iraq. So we want to make sure that we protect our people and that we also don't undermine our overall mission while we're doing it in Iraq. So they decided and they agree, they're fully on the same page, that there needs to be greater MNF-I involvement in the operations of personal security contractors in Iraq. That's something that the Secretary testified to just last week.
The mission then is from taking that strategic level agreement between the two Secretaries and looking at ways how, in practical terms, you affect that. And that's what this working group is charged with doing. They're going to look at rules of engagement. They're going to look at greater visibility into the -- greater DOD visibility into the training process of the State Department, making sure that essentially the policies and procedures synchronize.
Now, you have two different missions here. You have the Department of Defense when they're employing personal security contractors. In large part, they are charged with protecting people who likely have been through combat training, have been in combat, who perhaps are armed themselves. State Department contractors are protecting people who likely have not been through combat training or in combat, depending on their backgrounds, and aren't armed. So the idea here is that you -- inasmuch as you can, you want to make sure that at a tactical and a strategic level, that we have the same basic operating policies and principles. And this working group is charged with looking at how we do that. They're going to do their work over the coming weeks. They're going to make sure that Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus have a chance to add their comments, add their views, add their suggestions as to how we accomplish this overall goal. The working group will come back here, the Secretaries will take a look at what they suggest and then likely sign off on it. But there is this idea that somehow that the Pentagon wanted, and the State Department wanted, for the military to "control" the operations of PSC contractors -- State Department PSC contractors in Iraq and that's just not -- that is just not accurate. I know that was an impression that was left by some news reports and that's not accurate.
And there was also one other, I guess, misimpression that might have been left with some of the news reports and that is that in some way, shape, or form, Secretary Rice is willing to lower the standard of protection for our people out in the field in Iraq in terms of the PSD contractors. That's just absolutely not true. There is -- you're operating in a conflict zone, in a war zone, there are risks that come along with that and she is absolutely committed to making sure that our people have the highest standard of protection that they could possibly have.
QUESTION: So it is not correct, then, that the Pentagon would have -- essentially have -- at the end of this process of the recommendations and everything, the end result of that is not going to be that the Pentagon has veto -- has a veto power over convoys being sent out into various areas?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's -- that is not my understanding. That is not what they agreed to. Now the objective here is to do all of this cooperatively. We're working together, we're all pulling on the oar in the same direction. We're all -- we all have the same strategic objectives. And of course, if there is an ongoing military operation in an area, I don't think the diplomats, other than those who may be assigned to those combat units in terms of embedded PRTs, are going to blow through a combat area with a convoy. That -- nobody's going to do that.
But that said, we're -- our diplomats are going to do their job. We're going to coordinate with the Department of Defense and we're going to make sure that they are certainly aware in advance of what we're doing. And that gets -- and that idea was really one of the core recommendations of Pat Kennedy, Stape Roy, and George Joulwan's report. And that is making sure that this -- our movement data, our movement plans, are downloaded to the military, make sure that they are loaded into the Blue Force Tracker so that everybody has visibility into what the U.S. Government officials are doing at any given moment in time.
QUESTION: What force tracker?
MR. MCCORMACK: Blue Force Tracker. It is the Pentagon's system or shorthand term for tracking movements, various vehicles, and it's -- DOD talks about it quite a bit. We also want to ensure that we have good tactical-level coordination, hence we're going to make sure that we get the radio equipment in our convoys that will sync up and is compatible with the Department of Defense, the military units that are out in the field. So we're fully committed to making sure there's visibility and transparency between what we're doing and what the military is doing.
So you know, certainly, this is not adversarial. This is working together and making sure that we share information, that it's fully transparent, and that everybody is comfortable with the way that we're operating.
QUESTION: Sean, why don't they -- if I understand it correctly then, no decision has been made on the issue of control of State Department contractors?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think -- again, you have two separate systems here. The idea is that you're going to work together to coordinate these and --
QUESTION: But keep them separate?
MR. MCCORMACK: They're going to keep -- yes, they are going to be kept separate and --
QUESTION: And can you --
MR. MCCORMACK: And you know, an important concept here too is the idea, the management concept of making sure that authority and responsibility are resident in one individual. You can't separate those two things. Ryan Crocker is responsible for ensuring that his people have the best possible protections for his people and that they conduct their activities and their operations in such a way that they are doing it in a safe way. You have to make sure that he also has the authority to make sure that those -- that that happen, so you have to make sure those two things are married up.
But regardless, and again, this is not a contentious issue between Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates. They're on the same page. They are fully committed to making sure that there is the transparency, that we're working together, and that we have good strategic level of coordination.
QUESTION: But given that it's a war zone as you say, why not have unity of command over this particular function?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, again, there is -- you can operate at the level of ideas and then you can operate at the level of practical implementation. And I think when you look at the whole picture, there's agreement certainly at the top level that improving the system that we have now, making changes to it as necessary, is the way -- is the way to go as opposed to taking a different pathway.
QUESTION: But I still don't get -- and I've -- why?
MR. MCCORMACK: There are a lot of different -- a lot of different reasons, going up and down the line, but central to that is this idea of authority and responsibility being resident in those -- those to whom we are going to look for answers, and others will look for answers, and who have the responsibilities for carrying out the missions. But as I said, everybody's pulling on the oar in the same direction here. And that's why Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates are talking about this. That is why this -- you have this joint working group, that is why we are going to go out and bounce these ideas off of the folks in charge -- General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker, not only bounce these things off them but get their input to it as well and then bring it back here.
QUESTION: So say a convoy had already left the Green Zone, could the military call whoever's in charge of that convoy and say, you can't come here now. And that would be - or would they have to come to an agreement between the two of them.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, if somebody -- you know, look, it's hard to answer that question from the podium here. But I think it stands to reason if our convoy is -- gets a call from the Department of Defense that says, look, this is not a good situation, you need to consider the risk here. You bet people are going to pay attention to that because, again, this gets to the point of do you want full maximum coordination, we want to make sure that our guys can do their job. But we also want to make sure that they are doing their job and can do their job in a way that they can feel comfortable that they are getting the best possible protection that we can provide them.
Anything else on this?
QUESTION: I want to know your opinion on the Madrid bombing sentence.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's a little different topic. But look, this is a matter for the Spanish people, the Spanish Government and the Spanish judicial branch, their judicial authorities. I don't know what, if any, other appeals are in the Spanish judicial process. So the decision -- the decision has been made. We are going to continue to work very closely with the Spanish Government on issues of mutual concern, including fighting terrorism.
QUESTION: So you're not concerned at all that the apparent mastermind is not convicted?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, again, that's -- it's a decision of the Spanish courts. I -- we don't have influence on that and it's probably not my place to offer an opinion on that. I'm sure that this is in the days and weeks ahead it's going to be a topic that's much discussed in Spain. And certainly the families of the victims of those bombings and those affected by the bombings are certainly going to be able to express their opinions.
But all I can say is we have a robust counterterrorism capability. We have a robust, strong relationship with the Spanish Government in fighting terrorism as well as other countries in the region and that's going to continue. And we ourselves have our own improvements in the way that we have hardened our country. So these are all processes that we have in place. They're going to continue to be strengthened. We're going to continue to have those good, strong relationships with countries around the world to make sure that, as best we can, we can prevent terrorist attacks and, for those who are planning or have carried out terrorist attacks, that they're held to account.
QUESTION: Sean, yesterday --
QUESTION: You seem to be singing a bit of a different tune with Yemen. Why is -- are the two places different because there were Americans involved in one and --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, it's not that. This is an individual that was convicted of killing American citizens, participating in a terrorist attack, sentenced for his crimes, and then there was some -- there was some dispute about or some questions about whether or not he would serve out his sentence. So you already had a decision of the Yemeni courts and judicial system that was being implemented, and then there was a question that arose whether or not he should remain in jail. And very clearly we were of the opinion that he should remain in jail, he is in jail, and that he should fulfill his entire sentence.
QUESTION: Yeah, but presumably if this guy had been acquitted in the first place you would have also made your displeasure known so I'm not sure why -- it seems to me that the difference, other than the stage of the legal proceeding that it's in, is that in one case there were Americans involved and in another case there weren't.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I can't tell you whether or not there are additional appeals involved in this process. And you know, there are examples -- there have been examples where in other countries around the world there have been court decisions involving people involved in acts of terrorism that have not gone the way that we might have wanted to see them go. But ultimately, we don't have a say in those judicial processes.
QUESTION: All right, fair enough. Is this one of those that you -- that didn't go the way you would liked to have seen it go?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I'm -- at this point, I'm -- because I'm not -- you know, I'm not fully briefed up on whether or not there are any appeals left in this process, I'm going to err on the side of caution.
QUESTION: Was this something that Secretary Rice mentioned in her meeting with the Spanish Foreign Minister the other day?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not in the meeting -- part of the meeting that I was in. Again, they had a one-on-one portion, and I haven't really talked to her about the topics of discussion in that part.
QUESTION: Iran sanctions.
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on this first?
Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Given that those new sanctions are designed to discourage investment with those designees, and also given that the State Department has yet to implement existing Iran Sanctions Act and Under Secretary Burns has said, look, that kind of involvement would undermine our coalition, our diplomacy, what makes any company think that these new sanctions are anything but the little boy crying wolf?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, you have the Iran Sanctions Act and every single case that I am aware of where the actions of a country or a company have triggered the law, it has been looked into. And those decisions are arrived by consensus in the U.S. Government when you're examining whether or not to take actions. So it is not a passive process, it's an active process in looking at these various cases. In terms of the actions that the Secretary -- Secretary Rice, Secretary Paulson announced last week, I don't think that Iran should take any comfort whatsoever in the fact that these were announced. These are tough measures. I would point only to the example of the Banco Delta Asia as a way of showing that when the Treasury Department implements these sanctions and when we take steps, they're very serious and they have implications beyond the application to American citizens and American companies and banks.
QUESTION: Well, what were those legal ramifications? I mean, what can you actually do to a third party company, like Total or NorskHydro or Sinopec that it's investing billions of dollars into Iran? What can you actually do?
MR. MCCORMACK: There are a number of different actions that are allowed for under the law under the Iran Sanctions Act. But I would point out one thing and that is beyond the black letter of the law, that there are effects beyond that. And those involve reputational risks and the reputational risk assessments that private companies, international financial institutions are going to make for themselves. They -- banks and financial institutions are already looking at their business with Iran because there's a level of uncertainty about with whom you are doing business and with whom those people might be involved and what they are doing. So a banker or somebody in the international financial system is now going to take note of the fact that there's a high level of uncertainty as to with whom you are really doing business and what activities that individual may be involved in when you are dealing with entities related to -- related in some way to the Iranian Government. And it is not going to be worth the possible risk to them to, in many cases, continue doing business and that has a real effect on the ability of the Iranian Government to access and use the international financial system.
QUESTION: But please forgive me for pressing you on this. I understand the reputational risk, but what are the actual legal risks for a company? There seems to be nothing written that says that you will actually apply this? I know plenty of things that companies can and do do to avoid this reputational risk. Halliburton's been operating through subsidiaries for decades and numerous other companies. So I'm -- we're still quite -- not quite sure about what you're actually threatening to do and what you are going to do.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of the sanctions that were announced last week?
QUESTION: In terms of the companies that are investing with the designees?
MR. MCCORMACK: The companies that are investing with the designees. Well, again, if they are found to be doing business with -- well, Chris, I have to back up -- you have different executive orders that are in play here and they have different rules and regulations, so you have to go through -- and off the top of my head, I don't have the -- you know, how it breaks down. But under certain executive orders, if a company is found to be doing business with a group or entity that has been designated for terrorist activities or supporting terrorist activities or for supporting activities related to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, there are potential legal penalties and you can very quickly get down to a choice, either on a legal basis or a reputational risk basis, of choosing between your American business and choosing -- and your business in Iran, for example.
So there are -- depending on the executive order that you're talking about, and again, I don't have them in front of me right now, you -- companies oftentimes are forced to make that choice, either because of a precise legal requirement or because of a reputational risk assessment.
QUESTION: If I can stay in Iran, do you have any comment on the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Tehran? Do you think it serves the common interest of the P-5+1?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'll let Foreign Minister Lavrov speak for himself about his visit. We knew about the visit in advance and we would expect that he would deliver the same message that the P-5+1 has been delivering and that is that Iran has a choice, that they can go down one pathway or another.
One pathway which they are currently on is one of continued isolation from the international community, which brings with it real costs and real consequences. The other one is engaging with the P-5+1, realizing negotiations about the possibility of a peaceful nuclear energy program in Iran as well as any other topics that they want to bring up. So that's what we would expect and I fully expect that that was part of his message to the Iranians, but I'll let him speak for himself about, sort of, the tone and what he encountered when he was in Tehran.
QUESTION: So they informed you in advance about this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, (inaudible).
QUESTION: And is it a topic that will be discussed on Friday for the -- during the P-5+1 political director meeting?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they are going to -- they are going to talk about the text of a resolution, the elements, the language of a resolution. Nick Burns is making his way in the direction of London for the P-5+1 political directors meeting. He's in -- let me check here, he's in Paris today, he's going to be splitting time between Paris and Vienna, I think on October 31st. Today's the 31st, right? Yeah, so he's in Vienna today and then tomorrow, in -- tomorrow, in London he'll have a variety of different meetings and one of the main topics is going to be the P-5+1 political directors meeting.
QUESTION: Do you have the -- just so we're -- everybody's clear on it, do you have the exact dates? I think his meetings in Vienna are mostly on Thursday and --
MR. MCCORMACK: What I have here is October 31st, he'll depart for Vienna, so perhaps tomorrow, it's -- the main body of his meetings, he'll talk to the OSCE and the IAEA.
QUESTION: Right. And then on -- can you say whether the -- I think the P-5+1 is indeed Friday, as Sylvie suggested. Do you have that there to put it on the record? There was some talk of it being Thursday night, but I think it's actually Friday.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, so the meetings will be on Friday. Yeah, on (inaudible) he'll depart for London. Okay, so maybe part of the day on the 1st is a travel day.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just staying with Iran, Foreign Minister Motaki said that Iran is going to hold further talks with the United States on improving security in Iraq. Two questions: one, are there any plans for such further talks either via the ambassadorial channel, or secondly, are there any plans for such talks involving potentially the Secretary on the sidelines --
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing on the books, nothing on the books. If that changes, I'll let you know, but nothing on the books that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: On either one?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: And every time I've checked in recent months, including with Mr. Satterfield about this, the tone has been almost hostile to the idea of additional talks at the ambassadorial level. And obviously, they haven't happened. Every time I ask, it's like, you know, we got nothing the first time around so. Are you -- even if there's nothing on the books, are you disposed, are you still open to this or are you --
MR. MCCORMACK: It's still a channel that each side could avail itself of if they agree upon it mutually, but as you point out, thus far, it has yielded little to nothing if not a worsening of the situation on the part of Iranian behavior in Iraq.
So if any of that changes -- and certainly we'll try to keep you up to date on it. We've tried to be pretty good and pretty transparent about -- about these meetings, and I expect that that would continue in the future if there - if we had more.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, Nina.
QUESTION: Afghanistan? Can you tell me how concerned you are about this Taliban offensive on the outskirts of Kandahar?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, probably the military folks, the DOD folks, are in a better position to talk about the military significance of this. But the Taliban is still a presence in some areas of Afghanistan. NATO is engaged in fighting them back, as are our guys on the ground. It's still an issue. It's still a problem. And it's something that the Secretary watches very closely -- the situation in Afghanistan. We're deeply engaged there. So -- and we're also trying to work the other half of the equation, working on construction, aid, development, building the institutions of Afghan governance, building up the road network. So it's a significant effort that we have ongoing in Afghanistan. It's something the Secretary watches very closely.
QUESTION: In terms of general security there, it seems that the Taliban went in when the pro-government tribal leader there had a heart attack. There was a power vacuum and they went straight in. They've been very coordinated in their attacks. Are you worried that this is a sign of -- they've been talking a lot about the spring offensive which never seemed to happen. Is this something you're worried about?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they've shown over the past year and a half or so, past couple of years, that they are capable of coordinated attacks, that they are capable of some coordinated operations. Again, the folks at DOD can probably give you a more granular feel for exactly how significant they see this and what's their threat assessment.
But you pointed out the fact that they went in this town. Some posit -- hypothesize that it was a result of sort of a weakening of the governance institutions, and that's an issue in Afghanistan. These are in many cases very, very weak democratic governing institutions, and when they are undermined or in this case if they fall by the wayside, there's a danger. There's a danger that a vacuum gets filled by Taliban forces or other outside forces that are really seeking to undermine the strategic direction that President Karzai has put Afghanistan on.
So that's why we are working very hard to help build up those institutions, but it's a task that's going to take quite some time. And it is certainly difficult work, but we have a good partner in the Afghan Government.
QUESTION: Are you not concerned, though, that it's too dependent on these individuals, these individual tribal leaders? Do you feel that you're working with them well?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, oftentimes that's what it comes down to: individual people being agents of change, making a difference in the lives of small groups or large groups. And we see that in Iraq, we see it in Afghanistan. The point you want to get to is that you are not wholly dependent on individuals or the actions of one person; you want to build institutions that are durable, that can exist beyond the tenure of one individual or that are larger than one individual and serve the needs of an entire population. That's where we want to get to. You have to go through these various stages, though, oftentimes where it is one person that makes a real difference. And sometimes when that person falters or unfortunate incidents like the one you describe occur, it's a setback. But you can't let that deter you from the overall mission to build these larger, more durable institutions.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: The Canadian commander in (inaudible) gave a news conference and he said he thought that they were going for Kandahar itself, and that was their kind of de facto capital when they were in control '96 to 2001. Do you think that's possible? Would they be trying to take Kandahar again?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm just not in a position to comment on that. The military folks would really be in a better position to provide a tactical view of what's going on there.
QUESTION: Different topic. From where you stand, is there a contradiction in today's announcement that the United States is sharing intelligence with Turkey military intelligence and all you've been doing to urge restraint on the Turkish Government and Turkish military not to cross the Iraq border?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Probably a better question as to the specifics to pose to my friends over at DOD. I don't have visibility into what the forces on the ground may or may not be doing and what happens in the military channels.
I think the Turks understand very well at a political as well as a diplomatic level, and I think the military level, our views on a unilateral ground incursion into Iraq. That said, we want to do everything we can to help Turkey protect itself and defend itself from terrorist attacks that may be emanating from Iraq. And that's why we're trying to work through the diplomatic channels. And I'll let DOD speak to what they may or may not be doing in military channels.
QUESTION: Sean, is the Secretary going to Ankara this weekend with -- as was reported out of Ankara, with an offer to increase intelligence sharing?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm sure that she will discuss with the Turkish authorities her views, her ideas, the views of our government on how we can make more effective the existing mechanisms that we have with the Turkish Government and the Iraqi Government and the U.S. Government playing a role and talking about Turkey's needs in terms of defending itself. Obviously, those are decisions that Turkey's going to have to make for itself. But on the -- our view remains the same. I'm sure that she'll have some good discussions with Turkish interlocutors.
QUESTION: And what would those ideas be that she's going to be going in with?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nice try.
QUESTION: Is there a risk, though, that it will increase military activity instead of decrease it and undercut the --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, talk to DOD about their activities.
QUESTION: But as far as our diplomatic efforts.
MR. MCCORMACK: But our view and DOD is this is a U.S. Government position. It's not a DOD or State Department position or a White House position. The U.S. Government position is that unilateral ground incursions by Turkey into Iraq are not the way to resolve the problem either in the short term or the long term.
QUESTION: Yesterday, North Korean ship kidnapped by Somalia -- North Korean ship kidnapped by --
MR. MCCORMACK: I saw the story. I have yet to collect the facts on it, but please proceed.
QUESTION: And the United States Navy warship helped those North Koreans --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- regarding this particular type of United States military activity. Does the U.S. have any intentions to help North Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as to the specifics let's set that aside. I'm looking into it. I've seen the news stories. As to -- generally speaking, and the Navy can probably offer you more detail on this, there are certain obligations when operating on the high seas with respect to -- interceding with respect to acts of piracy or potential piracy. And we have a very active presence in the region off Somalia and have previously interceded when there were potential acts of piracy being committed.
QUESTION: Is this a signification of -- between U.S. and North Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, first of all, look at the fact that there are general obligations when operating on the high seas. But as to the specifics of the story, I'll take a look and see what we can do in terms of getting you some facts.
QUESTION: Still on North Korea. Do you have anything you can tell us about the composition of the disablement team, which I believe is led by Sung Kim?
MR. MCCORMACK: The team that's going back to Yongbyon?
QUESTION: Yeah, on Thursday.
MR. MCCORMACK: It -- I believe it's the same basic mix of policy types like Sung Kim and technical experts who are really able to tell you where to -- where to perform activities that will disable the reactor -- the facilities in a way that we intend for them to be disabled. It's a very particular expertise.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: The Israeli Government is stepping up threats of a full scale of military operation in Gaza. Did you contact Israel about that? Is it to --
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen those stories, Sylvie. Let me look into it.
QUESTION: Okay. And -- well, they have been -- they have been bombing at some particular targets recently -- these recent days.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I know that there have been over the past months that there have been ongoing rocket attacks emanating from Gaza into Israel and Israel has taken steps to defend itself. But I'm not -- I'll look into it, Sylvie, but I'm not aware of a qualitative change in that situation, unfortunately, where you have the cycle of the rocket attacks and Israel acting in self-defense.
QUESTION: Okay. And what about the threats of cutting electricity and --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, that's something that we're watching. I know the Israeli Government when they first talked about authorizing potential actions they said that they didn't intend to create a worse humanitarian situation than exists in Gaza already. It's something that we talk to the Israelis about. It's something that we monitor closely. We, of course, are committed to helping to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. And you know, let's remember that the reason why you do have the humanitarian situation in Gaza that you have is because of the actions of Hamas. They have brought this upon the Palestinian people. It's rather unfortunate, but we are not going to forsake the people of Gaza just because Hamas has taken certain actions.
QUESTION: Does this not complicate your diplomacy? I mean, it seems as if there's been greater -- even if it is, you know, response to rocket attacks, that there's been greater Israeli military activity in Gaza, and the threat of, you know, cutting off fuel and energy supplies, surely that cannot ease your diplomacy as you try to get the Israelis and Palestinians to agree on a joint document.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, throughout this process there are going to be -- there are going to be many potential events, actions, that perhaps could complicate diplomacy. The key is that both sides, with the help, assistance and support of the United States as well as neighbors in the region, work through any issues that might arise in a constructive way and that keeps the focus on the work that will help bring about, eventually, a two-state solution. So there are going to be, I'm sure, from this point to when we have the meeting in Annapolis and even beyond, there are going to be events that transpire in the Middle East and elsewhere that may complicate the diplomacy. But the key is to try to work through those and to keep the focus on pushing the process forward.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say this does complicate it, do you think?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm not sure I would necessarily put it that way, but it's an issue that needs to be watched closely.
QUESTION: Sean, meeting aside, whether it complicates your diplomacy or not, how could cutting off electricity and gasoline to Gaza not make the humanitarian situation worse?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know --
QUESTION: So I guess the question is, presumably --
QUESTION: Well, presumably --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you already --
QUESTION: -- you know, you told the Israelis that you don't think this is a good idea. If, in fact --
MR. MCCORMACK: You already have -- you already have a very difficult humanitarian -- you know, regardless of what actions the Israeli Government may have authorized in the past and that may -- that it may follow through with, you have a baseline situation in Gaza on a humanitarian level that's very difficult. And that has been brought about because of the actions Hamas has taken.
What we don't want to see is that situation tip into crisis. And we are going to watch very, very closely the effects of any actions that Israel or anybody else takes. And I don't want to speak for the Government of Israel and I'm not going to, but they have previously made statements that they are going to watch very closely the effects of any actions that they may take and that they do not have a desire to have Gaza tip into a humanitarian crisis. It's already a very difficult situation.
So all I can say at this point, Matt, is that it's something that we are going to watch closely.
QUESTION: So you haven't said that you think this is a bad idea? I mean, you keep saying that you're not going to forsake the Palestinians in Gaza --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we --
QUESTION: And yet, if they have no fuel and no electricity, that seems to me pretty much forsaking.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, well, I'm not sure that that is -- that is going to be the net effect of any actions that Israel may take. We have talked to the Israelis about this. They have assured us that if you look back at the transcripts and look back at when they first announced these actions, that they do not wish to see any actions that they take push the Palestinians of Gaza into a humanitarian crisis. We take them at that assurance. It's something that we're going to watch closely.
QUESTION: Did you contact the Israelis about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't talked to -- I haven't talked to anybody whether or not we've been in contact with them. I mean, on any given day we talk to them about a variety of different topics.
QUESTION: Can you be more specific about what it means to watch closely? What does it actually mean?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, our folks on the ground in the Consulate in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv monitor the situation as best we can from -- from a distance, and in Gaza, we talk to various -- various people that have visibility into Gaza. We have a variety of means of collecting information. So it's a matter of making sure you have good information flow, you are able to quickly analyze and assess that information, and if there's a need be, take action, diplomatic or political.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the decision by State Department to extradite Korean American to South Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: This is the -- let me get my notes, notes on this. This is Kyung Joon Kim?
QUESTION: Yes, right.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I have some points here I can -- I can go through with you. But -- or actually, let me just summarize. The bottom line is that this case has been treated like any other extradition matter under our extradition treaty with the Republic of Korea. I understand that Mr. Kim had been pursuing certain appeals of the decision to extradite him, that those were dropped -- what, just a month ago on October 18th, and then the Department of State took certain actions to review the case and then properly informed the Republic of Korea regarding its decision. But the bottom line, the cycle back is that this has been handled just like any other extradition case.
QUESTION: A quick one on Iraq? Just did the whole -- the immunity -- Blackwater immunity question come up in the lunch between Secretaries Gates and Rice yesterday? And whether it did or not, is there anything new that you can share with us about that situation?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new on that. I didn't talk to her specifically whether they discussed the news stories that we talked a lot about yesterday. Hard to imagine that they didn't -- didn't touch on it, but I don't know, if they did talk about it, what the content of the conversation was.
QUESTION: And do you know if she's been in touch with anyone at Justice about this?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe she has.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the second one is just -- you may be aware of this town hall meeting that the Director General had this morning --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.
QUESTION: -- which was a bit rancorous at times about the directed assignments. I'm wondering if you -- you know, there were people comparing this to -- saying that this is a potential death sentence. There were some pretty strong feelings expressed opposing the whole idea. Do you have anything to say about it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's one of the reasons why you have town hall meetings. And they're to give an opportunity for people to, you know, air their views, ask questions of the leadership directly. There are a variety of different ways you can do that. A town hall isn't the only way to do it. But it's a -- it's a good, useful public forum to talk about what is for the Foreign Service and the State Department a pretty sensitive topic. And understandably, people are going to have some pretty strong feelings about it. And some people had an opportunity to make some good points, to air some points of view. I listened to some of the audiotape and -- I wasn't there myself -- I listened to some of the tape and it got pretty emotional at a couple of points.
And it's just -- it's part of -- as good managers, it's part of what you need to do to communicate with your people. I know that there were some people who were unhappy about the way that they were informed. They read about it in newspapers, in wire services, and I know the Director General talked about that. And certainly, that's -- you know, that's nobody's first choice, for people to read about decisions that have been taken that might affect their lives in the newspaper and the wire services. But you know, oftentimes, that's just the way the world works, particularly here in Washington, D.C.
So to the extent that people did learn about that and they were upset about it, you know, I know Harry took that on himself. In terms of people not supporting, not being pleased with the decision -- the management decision that was taken, there is -- there are avenues to air views, to appeal those decisions, to make their views known.
But ultimately, this is -- our mission in Iraq is national policy. It is our -- is the foreign policy set out by the Secretary as well as the President of the United States. We, as Foreign Service Officers, swore an oath and we agreed to certain things when we took these jobs. Part of them is to be available for worldwide assignment, you know, certain caveats with respect to family situations and medical conditions, but we're all available for worldwide assignment, we all agreed to that.
When -- the responsibility of the Department and the management is that when we send people into difficult, dangerous situations, that we give them the best tools that we can to do their job and that we provide the best possible protections that we can to ensure that they are as safe as they possibly can be. There are risks involved in going to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, other places around the world and there are a lot of people who are making real sacrifices on behalf of their country, sacrifices being away from their family, taking certain risks with respect to their personal safety, just being in some of these places. I understand that. The Secretary understands that.
It's not -- the decision that Harry, with the support of the Secretary, arrived at is not something that they took lightly and considered a variety of different factors, but this is the mission and we are charged with carrying out our duty and doing everything we can to help our country succeed in that mission.
QUESTION: Go ahead. Are you familiar with this poll that apparently AFSA took that found that only 12 percent of Foreign Service officers believe that Secretary Rice is fighting for them, for their interests?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not aware of it other than what I heard in the videotape in the question that somebody raised. And you know, I can tell you on a personal level that I find that very unfortunate because -- and maybe that's partly my fault, maybe that's partly the fault of people around Secretary Rice who are trying to communicate what she does on behalf of the Foreign Service, because I see it. You know, she is deeply concerned with, by, and involved in the management decisions regarding the Foreign Service and the State Department as a whole, working as hard as she possibly can to get the resources for the State Department.
I think just because of -- because of the force of her arguments supported by the importance of the mission that we're carrying out, I find it hard to imagine another Secretary of State who could have delivered the resources and the kind of budget environment that we have, that she has. And I know that this is something that she thinks about every single day and that she works on every single day. So I've seen it up close.
Maybe I need to do a better job of communicating that with people and maybe those around Secretary Rice need to do a better job of communicating that to the Foreign Service, because the people in the Foreign Service of the State Department really do have to know and should understand that they have a Secretary of State that cares about them and that is deeply committed to bringing them the resources that they need to do their job. You're not going to get everything you want; that's just -- that's the reality of the budget environment that we work.
But she's committed to being a good steward of the taxpayers' money and working on behalf of this building.
QUESTION: Sean, why didn't the Secretary hold the town hall meeting herself?
MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't talk to Harry about it. She has had town hall meetings in the past. I am sure that she will have them in the future. I didn't -- I didn't talk to her about it. I think -- and I didn't talk to Harry about the decision-making process that went into it. I think that he felt -- likely felt that this was something that he wanted to do and wanted to address.
I'm sure that she's going to have town hall meetings in the future and she's -- if you look at her record in the past -- has taken on all questions that have been put to her and actually devoted quite a bit of time to it.
QUESTION: No, I've attended some of those. But I mean, the reason I asked is it goes sort of directly to -- I mean, I was going to ask it before Matt referenced the poll, which I didn't know about. But there can't be -- you know, you look at the investment of blood, of American blood and treasure in Iraq it's hard to argue that it's anything less than one of the -- if not the -- top foreign policy for the Bush Administration priority. So, and getting people out there and exhorting people to get out there, even in the face of an environment where you clearly don't have enough volunteers to go there, would seem like a pretty important thing. And a number of people have asked me why didn't she do it, and I'm sort of wondering myself.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, one data point isn't a measure of one's commitment or interest in an issue. She has had and will have many town hall meetings at which she's going to take questions directly from employees who have concerns about a variety of different topics. She gets -- you guys may not see it, but she gets out around the building quite a bit. She visits bureaus, she has briefings with the folks who don't have the big offices and fancy titles, but they actually work the issues on a daily basis. You know, she'll come down here, she works out in the gym here and she goes down to the cafeteria here. So she gets out in the building quite a bit and she touches a lot of people that way. So there are a lot of different ways to stay in touch, keep your finger on the pulse of the building and be able to answer questions directly for those people who, you know, likely don't see her on a daily basis.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:36 p.m.)
DPB # 192
Released on October 31, 2007