Scoop has an Ethical Paywall
Licence needed for work use Learn More

World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search


US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: 01 Nov 2007

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 1, 2007

US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: 01 Nov 2007



Service in Iraq / 15 New Volunteers / Personnel System
Criteria for Prime Candidate Identification / Directed Assignments / Recruiting
Worldwide Availability Oath
E-mails from Foreign Service Officers in Baghdad
Town Hall Meeting / Benefits and Incentives
Secretary's Involvement in Personnel System / Secretary's Cable
Turning Down a Position
AFSA Poll / Pay Comparability
Reputation of the Foreign Service / Increase in Unaccompanied Posts
Transformational Diplomacy


Upcoming POTUS Meeting with Erdogan / Possible Negroponte Attendance
Addressing PKK Attacks


Fluctuations in Refugee Resettlement Numbers / Annual Goals


FM Lavrov's Visit to Tehran
U.S.-Russia Cooperation on Iran / Elements of UNSC Resolution
Secretary's Conversation with FM Lavrov
Importance of OSCE Election Observers


President Mugabe's Successor / Support for Free, Fair and Transparent Elections


Resignation of PM Spiric / U.S. Support for UN High Representative Lajcak


Disappointment Over Expiration of Japanese Anti-Terrorism Law
Valuable Contributions of Japanese Government / Refueling Mission


Cordoba Visit / Consular Access Granted to Imprisoned FARC Guerilla Palmera
President Uribe's Comments on Hostages
No Concessions for Hostage Takers

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.


1:00 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I just want to start off with -- on a topic that is probably going to be the main topic of our conversation, based on the phone calls that I've been getting this morning, and that is a lot of discussion about the willingness of the State Department to step up to the challenges in Iraq, the willingness of Foreign Service officers to serve in Iraq. And I just wanted to -- I'm sure we'll have a conversation about it here, but I just wanted to put out a few facts for you for consideration to provide a little bit of context for you.

First of all, since 2003, we've had over 1,500 State Department personnel volunteer for service in Iraq. And our current job fill rate in Iraq is about 94 percent, so we have about 94 percent of the jobs in Iraq filled. And that's actually a rate considerably higher than worldwide, and that figure worldwide is lower for a variety of different reasons in terms of hiring practices and budget shortages and that sort of thing. So we've actually been quite successful in filling the jobs in Iraq with volunteers.

And I came across an interesting statistic this morning, and that is -- that is that since Friday, when the cable when out to the 200 prime candidates, that 15 people have stepped forward and volunteered to fill the jobs in Iraq, those 48 jobs that we're looking for. And it's important to remember we're talking about 48 jobs here. We already have filled 200 with volunteers.

QUESTION: Fifteen of the 200 --

MR. MCCORMACK: Fifteen people. Fifteen other people volunteered.

QUESTION: Not in the -- not in the prime candidate --

MR. MCCORMACK: Not in the candidate pool.


MR. MCCORMACK: And they're being vetted. They're being looked at in terms of medical clearances, in terms of skill set and how that matches up against the requirements in Iraq. Because you have to remember that the reason why we have these 50 new jobs that we're trying to fill is because Ryan Crocker identified the need for these 50 additional job slots in order to accomplish the mission that he has been charged with accomplishing. And it bears with -- it bears repeating, and the idea that this is one of the most important, if not the most important, foreign policy national security priorities that the President has laid out for the State Department. We have a mission. We have a duty to do the best we possibly can to succeed in that mission. And in that, Ryan wants to make sure that we have the best possible people, and that means matching up skill sets with the requirements of the jobs that he has identified.

So that is the reason why we have these 50 new jobs. That is -- and that is one of the reasons why we have taken the step of issuing these letters identifying the prime candidates. I can't tell you exactly how many of those, the 48 jobs that we're trying to fill, are going to be pulled from that pool of 200 people. It could be the case over the next several weeks that we are actually able to fill those jobs with people who have volunteered, people from outside that pool. We'll see. We'll see how this plays out in the next couple weeks. But it may well be the case that we have to identify people and ask them and direct them to serve in specific jobs in Iraq.

And as a final note on this, and we can get into your questions, I, along with every other Foreign Service officer, took an oath that we are going to serve the United States Government, we are going to fulfill a duty, and that we are available for worldwide service, without exception. Now, there may be medical conditions that preclude worldwide service and so there are -- there are certain personal-specific conditions that the Service looks at. But we took an oath -- all of us -- to serve around the world without respect to location or in some cases, necessarily, preference. So it's important to remember that, when we're talking about this. The Foreign Service isn't the military, but it is important to remember that we did step up to the plate. And in agreeing to take these jobs and as well as all the benefits that accrue to those who take these jobs, that we would make that commitment -- if called, we would serve. Thank you.

Now, for your questions.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure I got -- there are about 11-12,000 Foreign Service officers?

MR. MCCORMACK: 11,000-plus, yeah.

QUESTION: And you got 15 volunteers. That's about .01 percent?

MR. MCCORMACK: And we already have 1,500 State Department personnel who have volunteered to serve.

QUESTION: Right. Who have already served.

MR. MCCORMACK: To serve, yeah. And --

QUESTION: And those people who have served aren't barred from going back, though, are they?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's true. And we have people that have gone back there and we also have people currently serving in positions and people who will be going there who, when asked, gave up good jobs, sometimes high-ranking jobs. We have three people serving in high-ranking management positions in Embassy Baghdad who left ambassadorial assignments in Albania, Greece, as well as Bangladesh to go serve -- to serve in Iraq. And I also know of an individual who is going to be leaving an ambassadorial assignment again to go serve in Iraq. He was asked to do so and, yeah, I talked to him about it. And it wasn't necessarily an easy decision for him. But at the end of the day, when he considered all the factors, he realized that he was being asked to serve on behalf of his country in Iraq and that he had a duty to fulfill. And he's actually --actually, now I just talked to him this morning -- he's actually now out there actively recruiting and encouraging others to step up to the plate as well.

QUESTION: Okay. But still, and this is -- just by the numbers, and I know that you're often reluctant to get into numbers from the podium, but since you did it first with your statistics there --

MR. MCCORMACK: I stepped into it, absolutely, Matt. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, you've talked about four people just there and then you said 15 have volunteered. Not exactly an overwhelming number are stepping up to the plate, although some certainly are. So what does it say that, you know, you've put out this call -- the people know that if not enough diplomats volunteer, people are going to have to -- that people are going to be forced to go there.


QUESTION: So they're aware of that and 15 out of almost 12,000 say yes, which is not -- you know, it's not exactly -- .01 percent isn't a big number.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. But also, all of those 12,000 don't have the skills and the skill set that we're looking for and --

QUESTION: You don't know that these 15 people do either.

MR. MCCORMACK: And we don't. We don't. I said that. I said they're being vetted and they're being looked at for how their skill set matches up against the requirements there. And I did use numbers, admittedly. But numbers don't always tell the story. And I also have here some e-mails from folks who served in Baghdad and I'll read a couple of the selections for you. And you know, it tells part of the story beyond the numbers.

As members of the Foreign Service -- this is from somebody who -- an FSO who served in Baghdad from 2006 to 2007: As members of the Foreign Service, we answer one of the highest callings, to serve our country. We agree to uphold the Constitution and we sign up for worldwide availability. Baghdad falls under that category. Travel in and out of Iraq is arduous. And even though I lived with the constant threat of mortar and rocket fire, I also had unparalleled opportunity to interact on a daily basis with high-level foreign diplomats, highest echelon of Iraqi Government officials in the Embassy's front office. I cannot remember another year in my adult life that was as exciting, fulfilling and that passed as quickly. From the same person: Perhaps my greatest compliment is to say I will return. I believe that with the amount of people needed at the Embassy, many of us will at some point need to go back. When that time comes again, I'll be ready.

One other person. This is somebody -- a Foreign Service officer in the management cone: I look at my -- on my year in Baghdad as one of the hardest, yet one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I joined the Foreign Service because I wanted to represent my country overseas. I took an oath to be worldwide available and to go where I was needed and to do what was asked of me. I decided to volunteer for service in Iraq because of a sense of duty and because it was, in my opinion, the right thing to do.

And there are others here. I won't go through this entire list, but --

QUESTION: Understood. I --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. But this -- the reason why I wanted to go through some of these is because in some of the reporting, just some of the reporting, I've seen this sense that somehow the Foreign Service is not stepping up to the plate and that somehow people in the Foreign Service are turning away or trying to avoid service in Baghdad. Now, every individual is going to make their own decisions about where they want to serve. But both the numbers and -- as well as some of these anecdotes, I think, illustrate for you the readiness and the willingness of people in the State Department and the Foreign Service to step up to this duty. Now, there are going to be others who have a different opinion and you are all free to talk to folks throughout the Foreign Service and the State Department. I know you will. I encourage you to.

And you're going to get a range of opinions, but it's important, I think, that we not lose sight of the fact that there are many people -- if not a majority, I don't know -- who are ready, willing and anxious to serve their country in some of these difficult places, including in Baghdad.

QUESTION: Were those unsolicited emails to you, or what were they?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, this was -- on their own, some folks in the Department went out and talked to some of the people that they know they had either served with or had served in Baghdad. I didn't -- I didn't solicit them. This was -- this was brought to me. But some -- some people in the Department did take it upon themselves to go out and get in contact with some people that had served.

QUESTION: In response to yesterday's --

MR. MCCORMACK: Not from the --

QUESTION: No, no, no, but in response to yesterday's -- the town hall meeting and --


QUESTION: -- the report -- reporting about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, yes, yes.

QUESTION: Well, do you know -- go ahead.


QUESTION: Can we go back to numbers for a second?


QUESTION: The number of people who were identified as prime candidates, was it 200? I've heard two to three hundred, I've heard 250. Do you --

MR. MCCORMACK: The number that was given to me was 200. Let me double check.

QUESTION: Okay. And if you could get us the -- I mean, 11,000-plus is helpful, but if you actually have a clearer number, if it's 11,998 Foreign Service officers, then you --

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me give you the figure of active duty Foreign Service personnel that was given to me. It is 11 -- there are -- well, you know, the word, approximately -- I'll try to give you an exact number, but there are approximately 11,500 active duty State Department personnel.


MR. MCCORMACK: You know, that'll -- that number will actually change on a daily basis as we take people in and people retire. Well, if there's --


MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?

QUESTION: DS and everybody?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll get you a breakdown of all this stuff.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary considering, herself, making an appeal to more Foreign Service officers than the, I think you said, roughly 1,500 that have already served in Baghdad to step up?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, thank you for asking that. She actually has been, for quite some time, personally involved in recruiting for Embassy Baghdad -- some of the -- some of the higher-level jobs, as you can imagine. I know that she has made -- personally got on the phone and met with individuals to encourage them to serve in Embassy Baghdad. Some of the former ambassadors that you now see occupying some of the senior management positions at Embassy Baghdad are there because Secretary Rice talked to them about service in Iraq.

It's not as if those are hard phone calls for her because oftentimes these people are absolutely ready to serve in these jobs. And Ryan Crocker has done a lot of outreach to encourage people to serve in Embassy Baghdad as well. And the -- in the wake of the cable going out identifying the 200 prime candidates, the Secretary is going to send out a cable worldwide to people, talking about this decision as well as encouraging people to serve in Iraq, whether that's in Embassy Baghdad or the PRTs. And I know that you guys, just as one aside, it just occurred to me, I know that you guys have had an opportunity to talk directly with a number of the PRT leaders. We've done a lot of direct --

QUESTION: Like you did this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, sometimes the technology works, sometimes it doesn't. But you've had a lot of opportunities to talk to these people, so I think you, too, have a good sense for the dedication and the spirit of a lot of these people who are serving out even beyond Embassy Baghdad, beyond the Green Zone, and I think that's important to reflect as well.


QUESTION: The impression given by at least one official at the town hall meeting yesterday said that the -- the impression he gave was that the security threat at the Embassy was -- it seemed to be unprecedented and it should have been closed long ago.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's one of the reasons why you have town hall meetings is that people can express whatever opinions they want to. And I will take the opportunity since you bring up the town hall meeting, I think that there was -- there was some confusion about whether or not BNET would air the town hall meeting, that's our internal television channel. It didn't air yesterday. I heard about that. I talked to people in management and they said absolutely this should air. So it is -- I think it's going to air a few times today and it's also going to be available on the intranet. There's a downloadable version of it. So I want to make certain that everybody understood that as soon as we became aware of the fact that it had not aired, we acted very quickly to make sure that people could see it. But --

QUESTION: Why didn't it air yesterday? Was there a decision made?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you exactly why, Arshad. My understanding is -- when I left here last night that it would air. That wasn't the case. I know that people were -- people were waiting for it -- to see it. But as soon as I became aware of the fact that it hadn't aired, I made sure that I talked to some folks and it did air.

QUESTION: But you don't know if somebody made a decision after you left?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I'm not sure. I don't know exactly.

But let me get back to the town hall meeting. That's one of the reasons why you have town hall meetings. Of course, everybody understood that this is -- was going to be a topic about which people had probably some pretty strong feelings and we saw some of that yesterday. For about 10 to 15 minutes of an hour-long town hall, I think you saw some of these strong emotions come out. Absolutely valid. If people are concerned, we encourage them to speak out. And we are going to try to talk to as many people as we possibly can, and especially those people who have been identified as the prime candidates for these jobs, to talk to them about service in Iraq, talk to them about the process through which they were identified, and as much as we can talk to them and address the concerns that they may have. I can't say that we're going to be able to address every single individual's personal concerns. That's just not the way -- not the way this works.

But the Secretary is absolutely committed to making sure that our people, when they do go into these dangerous environments, whether that is in Baghdad or elsewhere in Iraq or in Afghanistan or other dangerous posts around the world, that they have the tools that they need to do their jobs and that they have the best possible protections that we can provide them.

That said, we know that we live in a dangerous world and that no matter how many protections we take, no matter how much care we take, there are risks, and there are risks involved with serving overseas and representing the United States overseas. So all I can say is that we do our best to protect our people, make sure they have the tools that they can do their -- to do their jobs, talk to people both in groups as well as individually to try to address individual concerns. We have taken a number of steps to address concerns about people regarding their families.

One of the concerns that people had about serving in Iraq over the past year, when it was expressed to us, was that, well, if I go serve in Iraq I'm being -- I'm up and leaving an assignment where my family was very comfortable, my kids are in school, and I have to move them back to the United States and they don't have a support network; that is something that really weighs into my decision making about whether or not to go to Iraq.

Well, we worked on that and we now have a system where families can stay at post if they want to, where children can finish school, they can have the support networks there that, for example, the military might enjoy back here at home where you have military bases. We try to address things like being separated from families for extended periods of time by modifying our leave policy.

So there are a number of different things we have taken -- steps that we have taken to try to address these individual concerns. That said, we are in a changed and changing world, and we are trying to change along with it. And I expect that as a result of this process that we're going through, maybe there are more changes that we're going to have to make. But we're trying to make -- use a personnel system that was designed for a certain era and a certain kind of world and modify it in such -- in such ways that we can meet the objectives that we need to meet in order to fulfill the missions laid out for us.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?


QUESTION: Sean, I wonder whether you have the statistics ready, but is there a number of diplomats wounded or killed in Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me -- let me get that number for you. I asked that question just before we came down here, and I'll get you a number. We have had State Department personnel that have been killed in Iraq. I don't have -- I don't have those -- I'm sad to say I don't have those numbers for -- in front of me right now. I'll get those for you.

QUESTION: When is the cable -- when is the Secretary's cable going out? Is it going out today or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect today.

QUESTION: Can you --


QUESTION: Are you going to circulate that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll ask. I'll ask at some -- it'd be unclassified, so -- if we don't make it available to you, I'm sure others might.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary seen or heard the town hall -- the -- has she seen the video or listened to --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure. I'm not sure if she viewed it. It was a long -- it was an hour long.

QUESTION: Did she read the transcript?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think -- well, I talked to her - I, as well as others, have talked to her.

QUESTION: Okay. So she's aware?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think she is. I think she is. Yeah, she -- and I talked to her about it yesterday, so she has a feel for sort of the full tone and tenor of it.

QUESTION: And the cable -- it refers to this meeting at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't --

QUESTION: It refers to some terms that --

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't --

QUESTION: -- or perhaps not specifically --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's not in direct response to that. But it's something that we had thought that she's going to need to do at some point, and it's not in direct response to the town hall meeting. But obviously, the fact that it's out there and she's talking about service in Iraq, she's talking about this decision to identify prime candidates -- I think it speaks to some of the concerns that were aired in that town hall meeting.

QUESTION: Why didn't she do this before? I mean, in other words, it would make sense to make an appeal before you have to get to the point where you are airing the possibility of forced assignments.


QUESTION: Why not have raised it prior to this, made the appeal so that maybe you didn't get to the point where you need to tell 200 or 300 people, look, we may have to oblige you to go?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she has -- as I pointed out, she has done a lot of that work already. But I don't think it's -- I don't think it's anybody's expectation that it's reasonable for the Secretary of State to call up every single person at every single level to talk to them about service in Iraq.

QUESTION: No, no, but the question was, why not send out a cable a month ago or six months ago or eight months ago or, indeed, last week saying, "Hey, it's a crunch, we need people."


QUESTION: "Please step up to the plate." I don't expect her to call everybody.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right. Well, we talked about how to -- how to communicate with our posts and it was decided and I think Harry Thomas felt strongly, the Director General of the Foreign Service said it was his job to do this. And obviously, the Secretary's going to participate in this. She cares deeply about the Foreign Service. She cares deeply about State Department personnel. So this was the appropriate moment and the right opportunity for her to start speaking with our personnel worldwide about these decisions.

It's not going to be the only time she talks about this, I would expect. You know, and one of the things -- one of the things I don't think that people get to see very often and sometimes you guys do -- you guys are aware of it when you travel with her, is she stops to speak to our personnel worldwide. You know, she stops and takes pictures with all the families, she listens to what they have to say, she answers their questions. So she's very hands-on in terms of interacting with our people worldwide and she does that in the building here too.

As I said yesterday, she talks to -- she talks to the people who aren't in the big offices and don't have the fancy titles, but the people who are, day to day, working issues. She gets briefed by desk officers. She visits bureaus all throughout the building on a regular basis to talk to them about what they're doing, to listen to their concerns. So those are things that people don't see, but that I think it's important for you guys to know about.


QUESTION: I have a couple of things, Sean. Maybe you could just pick, you know -- how many of the 48 vacancies are PRT and how many are in Embassy Baghdad? Second, what -- there was a memo -- there was -- there had been efforts to get people to go out. There was that memo about the perks that you get if you go to Iraq a few months ago.


QUESTION: Do those perks, which include preference on your next assignment, apply to these people?

MR. MCCORMACK: They do, they do, and I think -- was it 33 and 15, 33 PRT and 15 embassy?

MR. CASEY: I had that yesterday, Sean. I think it was 33 and 15, but I'll have to check.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, let's -- we'll post that for you, but there is -- I think it's 33 PRT and 15 Embassy Baghdad, but we'll post an answer for you.

QUESTION: 33 PRT, but -- okay, two other quick things. Have you identified -- have you explained to us the criteria that were used for these prime candidates? One of the most shocking things that came -- well, of the many shocking things was that these people were --

MR. MCCORMACK: Shocking?

QUESTION: Of the prime candidate -- astounding -- was that the 45 candidates have never served in the Middle East, they don't speak Arabic. I'd be pretty surprised if I got a -- on a -- you know, preference -- preferred candidate. So if you could sort of clarify that a bit. And lastly, how can you say we're doing so well, we filled 94 percent, where it's like, better than average, but now, for the first time in the history of the Department, you're going to compel to get the remaining 6 percent? How is the 95 percent -- that's an A-minus, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: Actually, it's not the first time.


MR. MCCORMACK: But that's just a number. That's a fact. You know, you can interpret it as you will, but I think it's a pretty compelling number. We're not hiding the fact that we have 48 jobs here that we need to fill. And our hope continues to be that we're going to get volunteers to fill those jobs, just as --

QUESTION: But it's 100 percent or nothing when it comes to Iraq, whereas everywhere else it's fine to have 70 percent or 75 percent filled?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we want to -- it's an important mission and we want to make sure that we have the best possible people there. We want to make sure we have quality and quantity and to try to meet those -- meet those criteria. There are compelling national interests that we have at stake in Iraq and we want to make sure that we have our best people there and that we have -- we are filling the jobs that the Ambassador has identified that needs to be filled.

Some of -- some of the jobs that aren't filled are just going to be sort of -- because of transactional issues, people coming and going. There are 48 here that need to be filled. And the Secretary is determined that we're going to fill them, and that we may get to the point where we have to -- we have to remind people and call people on the fact that they signed up for worldwide availability. It may not be the case. We'll see.

QUESTION: Do you have the criteria that were used to determine the primary -- the prime candidates?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll post something for you on that. I don't have it in front of me.

QUESTION: Oh, you will? Okay.


QUESTION: Sean, can you clarify what happens to people's careers if they turn the post down and what would be a valid reason for turning them down?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, people will have -- I imagine that for each individual case there are going to be individual reasons. I'm not going to try to imagine what those might be.

QUESTION: Well, what would that be? Would that be health or would it be my family doesn't want me to go or I just don't want to go?

MR. MCCORMACK: It could be one or all of those things. There are some things that none of us have imagined. Everybody has individual circumstances and they will have an opportunity, if we get to that point, to explain why they cannot serve in Iraq. Those will be examined individually. There are certain exceptions for medical conditions. There are certain exceptions when, for example, you're a single parent. But beyond that, you're going to -- we'll look at those cases individually. And you may well get to a point where somebody faces the decision either to go to Iraq or to leave the Foreign Service or be asked to leave the Foreign Service. That could well be the case. We may well get there. That has happened in the past in the State Department.


MR. MCCORMACK: During the Vietnam era.

QUESTION: Do you know of any other instance where there have been such assignments?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's the only one I'm aware of.


MR. MCCORMACK: It's the only one I'm aware of. I was actually talking to John Negroponte this morning, our Deputy Secretary, about that because he was -- he came in during that era and he knows personally people who chose not to go to Vietnam and to resign from the Foreign Service. And it obviously presents for some people a very difficult personal choice, but it comes down to that personal choice sometimes.

QUESTION: Do these people have any choice about what kind of post they are going to be put into either at the Embassy or at PRTs? Can they even choose between those two?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me ask that question. I don't know the answer to that. For example, if somebody's been identified for a job in, for example, in Embassy Baghdad and maybe they decide they want to go to a PRT or vice versa, I'll -- let me ask that question.

QUESTION: And also, are they being identified for -- did the cable go out to these people saying we want you for this job in the Embassy or we want you in that job in the PRT, or just --

MR. MCCORMACK: I believe that -- I believe people were matched up to specific jobs but --

QUESTION: Specific jobs -- they're offered specific jobs?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we'll try to -- we'll try to get some of the information for you on this.


QUESTION: Sean, I hope I captured that correctly. The town hall meeting was broadcast by BNET this morning. One -- I think the Foreign Service Association -- Foreign Service Officers Association cited that 12 percent of officers felt in the poll that Secretary Rice cared for them, I think.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. You know, you'll have to talk to AFSA about their -- about this poll. I understand that it's ongoing. I don't know what question they asked. Look, you can get polls and you can -- you can construct polls in such a way that you can get whatever answer you want. I don't know. You can talk to them about the poll.

But my understanding, at least the way that it was phrased, it was very much focused on one single issue -- this pay comparability issue, which essentially comes down to when people leave Washington, there's a differential that you get for serving in Washington, and in some cases their paycheck may actually go down if they go to serve in a foreign post. And this is a congressional legislative issue that would need to be addressed.

And I would note one thing. This has been an ongoing issue. This is something that's been hanging around for around eight to ten years. This year is the first year that this issue has actually gotten out of the interagency process and gotten out of the Office of Management and Budget process and actually made it as part of our request up to the Hill. And I'll tell you the reason why. The only reason why is because of the efforts of Secretary Rice. Now, I don't know if Foreign Service officers know that. I'm not sure if AFSA is aware of that. But it's an important point to remember. And you know, it sort of gets to this idea that somehow the Secretary is not working on behalf of the Foreign Service. It just couldn't be further from the truth.

So I don't know what this poll says. I don't know how it's constructed. I don't know their methodology. You can talk to the Foreign Service Association about that.

QUESTION: To the extent that any of us actually ends up having to write about this pay comparability issue -- (laughter) --

MR. MCCORMACK: You guys asked the question.

QUESTION: No, no, I'm asking a follow-up. Can you explain to me -- you said it was only because of her efforts that this actually got out of the interagency process --


QUESTION: -- and past OMB. What did she call for or what was the outcome of that process? In other words, your pay can't go down if you leave Washington or what?

MR. MCCORMACK: That they would -- I'll get you a detailed answer on this.

QUESTION: If you can just a -- just a lucid one-sentence answer --


QUESTION: From the guy who's leaving the country in two hours. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: We will get you that answer. I actually have a bunch of points here, but I'm not going to bore you with those.


QUESTION: Can I ask a --

MR. MCCORMACK: Is there anything else on --

QUESTION: Well, it's Iraq but it's unrelated.

QUESTION: Same thing.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, okay. Here and then here.

QUESTION: How long are people going to have to step forward to volunteer before you start actually tapping people to, you know --

MR. MCCORMACK: November 10th?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I think it's -- yeah, I think the idea was to have the process complete by the end of November.

MR. MCCORMACK: Have the process -- yeah, so end of November. In the coming weeks. Yeah.

QUESTION: I thought they had ten days to --

MR. MCCORMACK: November 10th, I think, is the point at which people are going to start being identified and told that you are going to be directed into an assignment, and then the idea is to have the process completed by the end of the month.

QUESTION: Sean, I know you talked about it a little bit already, but how damaging is this to the reputations of people you rightfully point out are courageous and so committed to their careers and service? Congressman Duncan Hunter came out today and said that these vacant jobs should be offered to wounded veterans and he said let's replace these reluctant nellies, referring to State Department employees.


QUESTION: What's your reaction to this and what do you do about it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's one of the reasons why I actually started the briefing the way I did, because I really do want to get at this idea that somehow the State Department and the Foreign Service isn't stepping up to the plate when the U.S. military is very clearly doing so. You know, it's easy to fall back on stereotypes of the State Department only occupying, you know, magnificent embassies in Western Europe and going to receptions and writing cables that nobody reads. That just is not the Foreign Service that I know.

And it's a real shame. It's a real shame that some people take away that -- those perceptions. You know, reading some of the -- reading some of the headlines, maybe I can understand how people might walk away with those -- some of those ideas some of the time. But it just couldn't be further from the truth. And that's one of the reasons why I wanted to talk about (a) the numbers of the people in the State Department that have served as well as some of the anecdotes so you get a sense of kind of the emotions and the real importance to a lot of individuals of duty and service.

And that is why I think virtually all of us joined the Foreign Service, and that is because we wanted to serve our country. There are a variety of different ways to do that and this is the way that many of us have chosen to serve our country. But we have a lot of brave people who are stepping up to the plate in Anbar, in Diyala, in Basra and Baghdad, in Helmand Province and Kabul and a lot of other places around the world that aren't necessarily in the headlines every single day. So we'll do our part to try to let people know exactly what our people are doing around the world, but it's important to remember that they are serving in some dangerous, challenging places.

QUESTION: Sean, I don't want to suggest that I believe this to be the case, but why shouldn't someone come to the conclusion that the Foreign Service is not stepping up to the plate simply given the fact that you were not able -- thus far, you've not been able to fill all the posts voluntarily?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I mean, you're talking about 48 jobs and, you know, these are new positions that have been identified. And I would just point to our track record of the number of volunteers that have stepped up in Embassy Baghdad and the PRTs. It's also worth noting, I think, that the State Department and the Foreign Service is undergoing a transition. We are living in a changed and changing world. And we are determined and the Secretary is determined to, as appropriate, change along with it and, where we can, to try to get ahead of the curve and that's part of the reason why she took a global distribution of assets that was really more suited to the Cold War or the immediate Cold War period and try to change it so that it meets realities of the 21st Century. One of the examples that she often cites and I cite sometimes is -- and this isn't to pick on Western Europe, but we had the same -- when she came in as Secretary of State -- we had the same number of diplomats serving in Germany, a country of 80 million people, as we did in India, a country of a billion people. And so she has taken steps to realign our assets around the globe, our personal assets as well as financial assets.

So that's just one small example of how we are trying to change with a changing world. Part of the changing world is the advent of PRTs. Those didn't exist before she was Secretary of State. And she has really -- when she came in as Secretary, she talked about transformational diplomacy and that's just sort of a fancy way of talking about doing different kinds of missions, not just government-to-government contacts, but working with individuals out there building institutions, democratic institutions, other kinds of institutions, helping implement AIDS programs, helping implement malaria programs, helping with disaster relief around the world. Now, these are -- some of, you know, AID, does some of these missions, but she wants our diplomats to be participants in that as well. And that's a little bit different orientation than we've had in the State Department traditionally.

So what you're seeing, part of this, is a large institution changing and transforming itself. Some of that is going to happen quickly, some of it's going to happen rapidly. Some of it's going to take time. But it's essential in order to meet the kinds of challenges and needs that we see in the 21st Century.

QUESTION: Can I ask one last -- just numbers one?


QUESTION: The 48, correct me if I'm wrong, but the total number of Foreign Service posts that you have in Iraq is 260. Is that correct?

MR. MCCORMACK: That sounds about right.

QUESTION: Could you check that for me?


QUESTION: Because basically I want to know is it 48 out of 480 or is it 48 out of 260, which is what I think it is.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I'll check. I'll check for you.

Yeah, anything else on this? Okay. You get to change the subject.

QUESTION: Is there anything new about the PKK and Secretary's trip to Turkey? And who's going to attend President Bush and Prime Minister Erdogan's meeting at the White House on Monday from the Department?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's going to be up to President Bush. I suspect from the Department we would suggest Deputy Secretary Negroponte attend that meeting. The Secretary is going to be traveling at that point in time. But she's going to have an opportunity to see Prime Minister Erdogan as well as President Gul while she's in Ankara -- we'll be leaving in just a few hours for that trip. I don't have anything new to report with respect to the PKK. You can bet that it's going to be a topic of conversation with Turkish leaders. It's of deep concern to them. It's of concern to us. So we're going to talk to them about ways that we can address the immediate problem of stopping these attacks. And then the longer term problem of dismantling and eliminating a terrorist organization operating on Iraqi soil.


QUESTION: On Iraq. And the refugee admission numbers came out yesterday.


QUESTION: Once again, a decline from the previous two months.


QUESTION: Can you offer any explanation as to why that's happening, especially since you have this new effort in place to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I -- we do have Jim Foley who is going out there to try to -- he's working with his DHS colleague to try to break through a lot of barriers. There are some behavioral as well as institutional barriers that we need to -- need to work on.

QUESTION: Behavioral?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of Syrian -- the Syrian Government's refusal to allow in new refugees as well as allow DHS people to come in to Syria to do their work to vet folks. But the numbers I have, Matt, 450 Iraqi refugees arrived to be permanent -- permanently resettled in the United States in October 2007. Over the period from October 1st, 2007 to September 30th, 2008, our goal is to have 12,000 come in. Now, as you report --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: 12,000. We expect to resettle 12,000 Iraqi refugees in the United States between October 2007, September 2008. Now, I anticipate your next question, which is to be, well, 450 in a month would not put you on a glide path to 12,000. Well, the numbers, they're --

QUESTION: Well, actually --

MR. MCCORMACK: The numbers you're going to see each month are going to fluctuate. I expect that, you know, on average, we would have to do a thousand a month. Sometimes you're going to be below that number, sometimes, obviously, you're going to have to be above that number.

This is a target. We're going to do everything we can to meet that target. 450 is not a thousand, but it is 450 people who have been resettled in the United States rightly as refugees.

QUESTION: So do you know when we can expect to see numbers higher than a thousand?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that you're on track --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to make -- I'm not going to make any promises about numbers from month to month, only to say that our -- our end target is 12,000 and the numbers are going to fluctuate each month.

QUESTION: Can we do one on Ankara? Could you just -- she's definitely going to meet Prime Minister Erdogan --


QUESTION: -- in Ankara?


QUESTION: Okay, great.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it's on the books.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary speak this morning, as I think she did, to Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR. MCCORMACK: She spoke yesterday with him.

QUESTION: Yesterday?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yesterday with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: Okay. He was in Tehran at the time?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think he had just returned from his trip to Tehran.

QUESTION: And her conversation?

MR. MCCORMACK: They had a -- they had a good conversation. I'll let Foreign Minister Lavrov talk about this.

QUESTION: Well, often, when people from this building describe the Rice-Lavrov conversations, they seem to be at distinct -- the descriptions seem to be at distinct odds with those that Mr. Lavrov himself likes to deliver.

MR. MCCORMACK: I know the incident that you're -- you know, look, they have -- they have a very good working relationship. And look, they -- Foreign Minister Lavrov is somebody who has spent a lot of time in the world of diplomacy and the UN. He is an excellent debater and -- as is Secretary Rice, and sometimes they do have good conversations. But look -- and sometimes they do debate points, important points, and rightly so, rightly so.

But in terms of -- in terms of Iran and where we -- where we are with respect to Iran, the U.S. -- the United States and Russia are on the same page with respect to our strategic objectives. Sometimes we differ on the tactics, but we are going to continue working on the Security Council track. Russia does not want to see Iran get a nuclear weapon and that, I think, manifests itself in a lot of different ways. One of those ways is we're going to have a Russian representative sitting down Friday with Nick Burns and his P-5+1 political director counterparts to talk about the language of a Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Was Iran the main or sole --


QUESTION: -- topic of conversation?

MR. MCCORMACK: It wasn't the only topic, but it was -- was significant.

QUESTION: And did she ask him and did she receive any explanation for his -- his visit to Tehran?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we knew -- we knew about his visit in advance.

QUESTION: Was she satisfied that he conveyed the message that you said yesterday you would expect that he would --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yes.



QUESTION: Can you tell us what else came up in the conversation and to what extent the conversation about Iran focused, if at all, on the work that the political directors are going to be doing tomorrow in London on a new resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: They touched on it. They didn't get into the details. I'm not going to get into other topics that they discussed.

QUESTION: Why not? I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's my prerogative. Sometimes I tell you what they talk about, sometimes I don't.


QUESTION: At least --

QUESTION: In that same vein, since we last -- it was last raised at the briefing, the Russians have become more specific about the limitations that they're going to put on the OSCE observers for the December election and they're going to cut it down from 450 to 70 in numbers. They want to limit the -- basically what the -- what these observers can report and they clearly want to change structurally within the OSCE the ability of the organization to monitor --

MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't seen those specific -- those specific requirements. But we would not support any actions, either with respect to the structure of the OSCE or specifically with respect to this mission, that would hinder or impede their ability to conduct an effective monitoring mission. Again, this is not something to be fearful of. It's something to be -- something to invite, something to welcome. We ourselves did it as have other countries around the world, so we're not asking Russia to do something that we haven't done ourselves.

I'll see if we have any further specific response with respect to the numbers. But I think as a general principle, we would not support, would oppose, any -- anything that would hinder the ability of the OSCE to perform this important function.

QUESTION: I've got one more and I don't expect you to have an answer to this, but maybe if someone could just check and find out.


QUESTION: Apparently, today is the deadline for the State Department to respond to some questions that were raised in the -- I'm reading this -- Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act about interoperability of authorities with radio frequencies with Canadian and Mexican -- with Canada and Mexico. I'm just wondering if --

MR. MCCORMACK: You've stumped me.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know. Can you find out if you guys responded to this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I certainly will. We will -- we'll try to dig up an answer for you.

QUESTION: I really don't think I need much more than a yes or no answer.

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Oh, no, Matt. We're going to provide you much more than that.

QUESTION: Well, I'm sure I'll probably get a volume of stuff now. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: (Inaudible) Zimbabwe and the enhanced powers for the President to name his successor?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. My understanding is they -- in the event of a vacancy in the presidency, that it would be up to the parliament to vote on a successor. Now, the -- which is a positive step. Now, the trick here is that the party of President Mugabe, who has not proven himself to be an adherent to democratic ideals, controls the parliament, which makes the fact of free, fair and transparent elections for the parliament in the future all the more important. So it's something that we're going to be watching quite closely.

QUESTION: But essentially, your fear is -- I mean, it's not like the elections in the past have been free, fair and --


QUESTION: -- you know, there. Correct?


QUESTION: So it is basically your fear that the deck is now stacked and that if parliament --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's possible it wouldn't be if you actually had free, fair and transparent elections. But that has been the reality in Zimbabwe in the past, and which is why we would -- it's all the more important that people focus on parliamentary elections.


QUESTION: Yes, one more. I raised this earlier this week, but there's a lot of political pushback by the Bosnian Serb entity to efforts by the international High Rep --


QUESTION: -- to kind of sort out the governmental structure there which has been paralyzed.


QUESTION: And I'm wondering if you had --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we clearly support the actions of the High Representative. His activities were well within his mandate. And that we would call upon any parties who are engaged in rhetoric that seeks to undermine this mandate or to undermine his mandate, or his mission in general, to cease and desist. This is -- he is working on behalf of the people of that region and any comments that seek to attack him personally or to attack this action and stir up sentiments against it really are not constructive or helpful.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: As the antiterrorism law expire in Japan November 1st, Japanese ships can no longer do this, you know, oil refueling mission in Indian Ocean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to that and is U.S. going to (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's disappointing. We certainly have valued the contributions to this date of the Japanese people and the Japanese Government and we are hopeful that the Diet will pass a law that reauthorize these fuel shipments. But we're disappointed they have been suspended.


QUESTION: On Colombia. There's this meeting on Tuesday between Senator Cordoba and the FARC member Simon Trinidad --


QUESTION: I was wondering what was your role in the meeting and I know there was a State Department representative.


QUESTION: And what's your view on what was spoken there?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not going to get into any of the details of the meeting. But there was a request for consular access by a Colombian Government official. We talked to the Department of Justice and consulted with our colleagues in the government about that. We granted that access and we also granted the request of the senator with the assent of the Colombian Government for her to accompany the Colombian Government officials. But beyond that, I'm not going to have any further comment.

QUESTION: And still on the same subject. The U.S. Ambassador to Colombia today said that he was encouraged by the exchange of ideas that were going on in Washington, Bogota and Caracas. And I was wondering what was he referring to about that exchange of ideas? What's going on --

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen his comments. Obviously, this has been a topic of conversation between us and the Colombia Government. And we're very much heartened by the fact that President Uribe has made it very clear that all hostages are going to be treated the same; there's not going to be a separate class for foreign hostages and Colombian hostages. And we very much appreciate that. It is -- continues to be our very strong view that we will not give concessions to hostage takers.

QUESTION: And just the very last question. Any news on the meeting between Secretary Rice and Senator Cordoba?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new. I'll check to see if there's anything there.


QUESTION: Pakistan. Hasn't Rice been trying to call Musharraf today and discouraging him from implementing emergency rule?

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: State of emergency -- isn't there a Pakistan story? The Secretary's been calling him today?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you on that.



QUESTION: One question on Cyprus. During your trip to Turkey are you planning to discuss also the Cyprus issue with the Turkish authorities?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to check to see if it's on our agenda. We very often discuss that issue with Turkish authorities. We'll see if it's on the agenda this time.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:51 p.m.)

DPB # 193

Released on November 1, 2007


More: Latest World News | Top World News | World Digest | Archives

© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
World Headlines


Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.