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Daily Press Briefing - December 10

Daily Press Briefing - December 10

Wed, 10 Dec 2008 14:01:40 -0600

Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman

Washington, DC

December 10, 2008



Update on Ongoing Investigation into Mumbai Attack

U.S. Pleased with Level of Cooperation and Steps Taken

Law Enforcement Procedures / Leveraging of Information


Progress Regarding Six-Party Talks in Beijing

Numerous Sanctions Remain in Place

Verification Protocol is Priority at the Present Time

Dual Pathways Exist for North Korea’s Future


Deputy Secretary Negroponte’s Visit


View Video

10:35 a.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning, everybody. I don’t have anything to start off with, so we can get right to your questions.

QUESTION: Can I ask – Sean, a newspaper report in India says that John Negroponte is going to be visiting Islamabad this week, and it also says that President-elect Obama is going to send a special envoy to India. On the second point, would that be something that would be cleared by the State Department if such a thing were to happen? And are you aware of that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ve heard a lot of news reports about special envoys in south Asia and so forth, but, look, that – those questions are all for the President-elect’s office, as well as the transition team, so I’ll refer you to them about any questions in that regard. I would just say that, look, we have very good flow of information between the State Department and our transition team as well as, when merited, the State Department and the President-elect’s transition team in Chicago. So there is good flow of information there.

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In terms of Deputy Secretary Negroponte’s travel, I know that he is in Afghanistan today and he’s, I believe, already met with President Karzai. We will try to keep you up to date on his travel schedule as it evolves.

QUESTION: So you can’t confirm that he’s going to Islamabad?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll keep you up to date on his travel schedule as events merit.

QUESTION: Did – are you still with India-Pakistan?


QUESTION: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you take the steps that the government took on this extremist group as serious steps?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yes. We believe they’re serious, important steps. As I talked about yesterday, certainly there’s more to it; want to make sure that those responsible are brought to justice, and that in taking any steps, any actions, that you use those as a way to help prevent any future attacks. So we want to use that as leverage.

All of this said, the fight against violent extremism, whether it’s in Pakistan, Afghanistan or even India, is an ongoing problem. It’s not a “one-off” kind of issue. It requires constant attention. And we know that the Pakistani Government understands that, as do – as does the Afghan Government, as well as a lot of other governments around the world.

It’s an every-single-day endeavor. We have learned that. We have learned that in the post-9/11 environment. That’s part of what the Indian Government I think is going through now in terms of building up the right institutions, the right linkages. We’re ready to help them with that, as we are with the Pakistani Government, in assisting against the – in the fight against violent extremism.

QUESTION: But is a house arrest enough? Is it enough for stopping the – this group, because they didn’t dismantle the camp? They even didn’t really –

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ll let the Pakistani Government speak to the specifics. I’m not going to do that from the podium here. But what I said about the fact that this is an every day endeavor is important, as well as the fact that you need to lever what you have done to prevent future attacks. That is critically important. It’s important for Pakistan, it’s important for India, it’s important for the region. Frankly, it’s important for us. And I think Secretary Rice made that clear. So this is something that countries around the world that face the threat, whether internally or externally, from violent extremism need to engage in every single day.

QUESTION: It sounds like you’re afraid that this may have just been done for show, but (inaudible) –

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, no. And that’s – I’m not – I’m absolutely not trying to imply that, and I called these steps important. There are other aspects to this. There’s the aspect of bringing to justice those responsible for the attacks in Mumbai, and making sure that future attacks are prevented. And that’s something that’s going to – that need to happen every single day. What the Pakistani Government has done, the actions they’ve taken, are good. They’re important steps.

QUESTION: But it’s not enough?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, look, let’s – they’re good and important steps, and the Pakistani Government understands that they face a threat every single day, and that this is an endeavor that requires attention every single day.

QUESTION: North Korea?

MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on India-Pakistan?

QUESTION: Yeah. I want to follow up on that.


QUESTION: I don’t quite understand what you mean by leverage these arrests to prevent attacks. You’re saying follow through, don’t just let them go in eleven months, as has sometimes happened in the past –


QUESTION: – take it through the – a legal system and make it –


QUESTION: What do you mean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there’s a law enforcement angle here, which refers to making sure that people who are responsible for these attacks and the deaths of innocent people are brought to justice. There’s also – there’s another aspect to this, and that is to make sure that – arresting people, getting people off the streets – that you use those opportunities also to help prevent future attacks.

We learned in the aftermath of 9/11 that there was a lot we didn’t know about al-Qaida, about how it was organized, what plots and plans that it had underway, who was part of this organization. And we started to get that information as we started to roll up these networks. And one thing led to another. So you could lever one action – leverage one action towards preventing future attacks, because you start to learn more.

And one important aspect to that is information flow. As you gather information, that that information is shared in a way that is useful and effective. Secretary Rice talks about the fact that information isn’t knowledge and that does not equal action. You have to connect all of those pieces. It took us some time after 9/11, through hard lessons, to put in place all those institutions, to put in place those organic relationships both internal to the United States Government, and also between the United States Government and foreign entities, other intelligence services. So that is all critical, and I think that that is what we would hope and encourage the countries of the region, to start down that pathway.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: So the last time Masood Azhar was arrested, he wasn’t charged and released in eleven months. Why do you believe anything will be different this time around?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, let’s – you know, let’s see what the next steps are. I have outlined in principle what we believe the next steps are. I’m not prepared at this point to prescribe anything in particular. I think the Pakistani Government has a healthy appreciation of the situation and the threat that these violent extremist groups pose not only to Pakistan, but also to its neighbors.


QUESTION: Are you finding any discernable difference between dealing with Zardari and dealing with Musharraf over this kind of issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know that I would compare and contrast. Look, these – both of these Presidents have committed to fighting terrorists and violent extremists. And the fact of the matter is we have a new elected Pakistani Government and we are working with them. And as Secretary Rice said during her visit, in all of her meetings she detected a seriousness of purpose in dealing with this – the threat of violent extremism.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more thing, please?


QUESTION: In particular, A.Q. Khan, he’s asked again that his house arrest status be lifted or changed. Is there going to be any kind of change in policy in dealing with him that you can see?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll check to see if we’ve heard anything from the Pakistani Government, whether or not they have a different attitude towards his being off the street, as it were, and not being able to engage in the kind of activities that he had previously engaged in. I don’t think there’s any – certainly no question in our mind about that, what he was doing beforehand. And I think it – I don’t think there really is among members of the Pakistani Government as well. But let me check for you to see if we have heard, detected, discerned any possible change in his status.

QUESTION: But beyond that, have you – has Rice had any discussions with Zardari specifically about A.Q. Khan and that perhaps the U.S. might one day question him? Is there any prospect of anything like that?

MR. MCCORMACK: That has been an ongoing effort on our part. And again, I’ll check to see how we would describe that effort. I know that it’s gone in fits and starts over the years in terms of getting that information. There has been some information flow and it’s been quite helpful in rolling up other parts of the A.Q. Khan network. But it’s not something that I have checked on recently, so let me try to get you a description of how we would assess any recent cooperation.

In terms of the portions of the meetings that I sat in on, that it was – did not come up as an issue. But I wasn’t in all of the meetings all of the time. Sometimes Secretary Rice did it one-on-one.

QUESTION: Could I just – one of the things – on the ISI, is one of the things that the Administration would like to see in Pakistan a greater authority of the government over – of the civilian government over the ISI? As you’re well aware, last July, an effort to place it under the control of the interior ministry was reversed within weeks in early August. Is this one of the things stemming from the Mumbai attacks? And I’m not suggesting direct involvement, but I’m asking if this is something – greater accountability of the ISI to the civilian government and greater authority of the civilian government over the ISI – something that you want to see?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can only comment based on what was reflected back to me in the Secretary’s meetings in Pakistan – she met with General Kayani, the Pakistani Army Chief of Staff. The ISI falls under the Army Chief of Staff authority. What we heard was, among the civilians and the military in Pakistan, a unity of effort. They understood what the mission was. They understood what the threat was. And in terms of those relationships between civilian control over the military and how the military relates to elected politicians and elected leaders, that is something that is going to have to be defined and decided by the government in question – in this case, Pakistan. We can’t decide those things for them.

I think it’s – you know, one thing that we have tried to convey in the idea, and I think it has resonated in India and Pakistan that’s borne out by the history of the past seven years, is that the greatest threat to Pakistan in terms of security isn’t India. I think there’s a recognition that that threat, the biggest threat, is from violent extremism. And a lot of that – a lot of those elements are resident in various areas of Pakistan. I think people understand that. And so we talk to the Pakistanis and talk to other governments in the region about that fact.

And certainly, what we heard back from the leaders in Pakistan, both civilian and military, was an understanding that this violent extremism was a threat to Pakistan, and they understood what mission they had. And again, that was not us telling that to them. This was something that has – they themselves have – a recognition they themselves have arrived at.

QUESTION: So in saying that it’s up to the Pakistani authorities, civilian and military, to sort out who has control of the ISI, is it fair to say you take no position on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, our – we have a model of civilian control of the military. It’s deeply engrained in our system. However those are – those relations – whatever those relationships are, in terms of command and control and those organic links and legal and institutional links, each country has to define those for themselves. Our – what is important in any country around the globe is that you have those institutions working on behalf of the people, and working in the best interests of the people as expressed through the ballot box and as defined – you know, as it may be defined in a democracy. In our democracy, it’s pretty clear. How it’s defined in Pakistan – it may be a little bit different, but it’s important that all those institutions work together.

QUESTION: Can we go to North Korea?

MR. MCCORMACK: Did you have one more on this?


MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll come back to you. Yeah.

QUESTION: So has the U.S. been able to independently confirm these arrests made by Pakistan that Pakistan says it’s made, and who they are exactly, their connections to the LET or are we just going on Pakistan’s word?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ll – I will just adhere to a policy at this point of letting the Pakistani Government speak to its actions and describe what it has done. I have described the actions of – as an important step and positive. And at this point, I’m not going to offer any comment beyond that.

QUESTION: But the Secretary said yesterday that she didn’t – she was not able to confirm that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I’ve offered the comment that I’m going to offer at this point.

QUESTION: When do you expect more dialogue going on?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll see how this evolves. Again, you know, this is – it gets framed a lot as the United States is going to tell Pakistan X, Y and Z.

QUESTION: Expect more.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, no, no. I get that. I’m trying to drive home a couple points here: one, we’re going to work with them on this issue. And two, and more important, they understand what the threat is. These people are committed to violence, who are committed to killing innocent people in the name of some goal. It is as much a threat if not more of a threat to Pakistan than anybody else. And the Pakistani Government understands that.


QUESTION: On North Korea, there were reports overnight quoting South Korea’s Foreign Minister, I think, as saying that North Korea had refused to – it might have been the South Korean head of delegation – I simply don’t remember now, I’m sorry – as saying that North Korea had refused to allow samples to be removed from its nuclear facilities. Is that true?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll check for you. I don’t know. I don’t know what we have done in terms of sampling. I know sampling is an issue in the verification protocol in the discussions that are ongoing now in Beijing. I think Chris is giving a little bit of a blow by blow in terms of coming and going from the meetings. I haven’t spoken with Chris, so I can’t offer any more detail than he has offered you, just to repeat what he said. Thus far, the discussions haven’t trended in the right direction.

QUESTION: Can you double check on that one, on that specific point?

MR. MCCORMACK: On whether or not they’ve – whether or not, to this point, they’ve allowed samples?

QUESTION: To whether or not, to this point, their position has been that they will refuse to allow samples to be removed.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there’s an understanding that we arrived at in the negotiations with North Korea regarding sampling. And that is part of the exercise that is ongoing in Beijing right now, is to get all of those understandings initialed and agreed upon so that there is a common understanding among the Six Parties. We haven’t succeeded in that. I would only refer back to the briefing we had here a couple of months ago – I can’t even remember the date – with myself, Sung Kim and a couple others in which we talked about the agreement that had been arrived at with North Korea on behalf of all the other parties.

We’ll see how it turns out. We know it was agreed to. It’s a matter of now getting that initialed by all of the parties, and we’ll see where the discussions turn out.

At the moment, Chris is scheduled to leave Beijing tomorrow afternoon, their time. So we’ll – you know, we’ll see. I mean, it could be the case that he does keep to a schedule or it could be the case that if there are productive discussions, he continues to stay there. So we’ll see how things evolve.

QUESTION: And – sorry, that’s – is he coming straight home? Is he scheduled to come straight home from there?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think so. I think so. I mean –

QUESTION: And tomorrow afternoon their time?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, I say this with all the caveats that,

you know, Chris Hill’s travel schedule is probably one of the more flexible things that I have ever seen. He can change it, and he changes it quite often. So we’ll see. We’ll see how it evolves.


QUESTION: Considering that you took North Korea off the terrorism list already, what leverage do you have at this point in this particular process in Beijing right now to get them to sign on to the understandings you believed you had?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, at the time – at the time of our briefing, we also released a list, a multi-page list of all the various other sanctions that continue to apply to North Korea. So that act notwithstanding, North Korea does not have a normal relationship with the rest of the world, never mind the United States. And part of this process whereby North Korea would denuclearize, and the Korean Peninsula would be denuclearized, is that North Korea would gradually come to have a more normal relationship with the rest of the world and thereby gain benefits, have more interaction with the rest of the world, it could be more economic opportunities, a lot of other things that would redound to the benefit of the North Korean people.

That’s not where we are at this point. So there’s a lot of – there is a lot of leverage. There’s a lot of incentive for North Korea. Now, whether or not the North Korean regime decides that those incentives and those possible benefits are worth changing their behavior is a calculation only they can make. We can set out the different visions. We can lay out the incentives – we, meaning the other five parties. But it’s going to be up to them whether or not they take up the other five parties on that pathway.

There is, of course, another pathway, and we all know what that is. We’re focused on trying to go down the more positive pathway, and we’ll see what decision, what calculation the North Korean regime makes.

QUESTION: You know, Sean –


QUESTION: I think the Secretary Rice herself and several other officials have said that if North Korea doesn’t, in the end, adhere to this verification – to a verification regime, you could always put North Korea back on the terrorism list. Is that being considered at this point?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I guess – I suppose these things are always possible. You know, I don’t know the ins and outs of the law, but I think that they’re – you know, it’s based on behavior. And we’ll see what behavior North Korea engages in.

And again, you know, I know that, you know, North Korea put a lot of focus on that, and some have put a lot of focus on that, and we took that action very seriously, because we have certain responsibilities under the law. But if you just go down the list of sanctions that continue to apply –

QUESTION: But that was the one that they really cared about, so I mean, when we talk about leverage --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it – the – I mean – but –

QUESTION: – I mean, that may be the only leverage you have is to put them back on.

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s fine, but it has no material effect on the relationship with the rest of the world. It didn’t change one iota their ability to trade with the United States.

QUESTION: Well, it didn’t have one iota when you took them off.

MR. MCCORMACK: Exactly my point. So there’s still a lot of leverage in place.


QUESTION: In Belarus, any updates on Mr. Zeltser?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t. We’ll check for you.

QUESTION: Do you feel like you got snookered by the North Koreans by having taken them off the list, reached understandings that were not written down about the verification protocol, and now having to go through such an agonizing process to try to get those things written down?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Because we had a thorough understanding, a very precise understanding of what was agreed to, and we had that on paper ourselves. And, you know, it’s – they have a unique way of doing business. And you know, we’re not going to play into their way of doing business. We know what was agreed upon. We have it on paper. We have a solid understanding of it. Other countries within the Six-Party Talks share that understanding. And we’ll see if North Korea will now take that final step. And if they don’t, then potentially you go down another pathway.

QUESTION: But Sean –

MR. MCCORMACK: And we’re equally prepared to do both.

QUESTION: But you did play into their way of doing business, because you did take them off the list prior to having their explicit written agreement to the verification list that you say you agreed upon verbally and wrote down.


QUESTION: I mean, you took them off the terrorism list, and then six months later –

MR. MCCORMACK: The act of taking them off the terrorism list, State Sponsor of Terrorism List, was based on fact. It’s based on the law. There are certain – the law is very explicit about what gets you on the list and what gets you off the list. There is no cutting corners. You either meet the requirements or you don’t. And according to our reading of the law and regulations – and there was a public comment period allowed on this – they had met those requirements.

But – and I’m not trying to in any way diminish our view of the significance of complying with law and regulation. It’s absolute. But if you look at the actual material effect on our relationship with North Korea, I don’t see that it changed it in any way whatsoever.

QUESTION: Well, I’m looking less at the material effect on your relationship with – on the United States’ relationship with North Korea than I am at the material effect on the conduct of the U.S. Government’s negotiations with North Korea, where you gave them something that they wanted, however meaningless it might be in practical terms, and they didn’t give you what you wanted.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. Well, you also have the fact that Yongbyon has reached a state of disablement that it has never had before. So it’s not as if there was status quo in North Korea and outside of North Korea, everything else changed. That’s not the case, not the case at all. And this is a case where it’s action for action. So there’s a – absolutely, there’s a balancing of that within the negotiations and you know, on our part as well as on the part of the other parties in the Six-Party Talks. You know, and the fact of the matter is, if North Korea doesn’t perform, doesn’t continue to perform on expectations, it’s not going to realize the benefits.

QUESTION: And last thing for me on this, it seems to me that you are taking a slightly harder tone now, particularly your comment that we are equally prepared to go either way. You know, for a long time, you have really been trying to accent the positive and trying to work on this path and get them to, you know, carry through all of the steps generally laid out in the September 2005 agreement. Is that a fair reading now that you are, in fact, looking a little harder at the stick end of things, rather than the carrot end of things?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. Look, I can – I should have had the exact date for you, but I don’t know, within the past six months or so, Secretary Rice herself has been down here in the briefing room specifically – you know, did an opening statement on North Korea and all of these questions of verification. And I think if you go back and look at that transcript and, you know, transcripts before as well as after, you will see that this idea of the two pathways is there, that, you know, perhaps one day at a briefing I may not emphasize one pathway to the – and emphasize another. It’s not intended to indicate that the two pathways don’t exist or that they’re not equally likely. I mean, we don’t know.

The fact of matter is that North Korea still hasn’t made that strategic decision to denuclearize. They’ve taken some steps and there are indications that they were leaning that way, but they haven’t taken those fundamental steps. Part of – you know, part of that equation in making the assessment, have they taken those steps, you know, have they made a final decision to denuclearize, is a verification protocol and implementation of that verification protocol. I mean, the ultimate metric in judging that is the fact that they don’t – they no longer have a nuclear program. You know, we’re not near that stage at this point. But you know, there are important other weigh points along the way. This verification protocol is one of them.

QUESTION: Do you – Sean, do you think that it’s the responsibility of this Administration to get a deal on the verification or take measures, punitive measures, against North Korea or do you – or are you considering leaving it to the next administration to continue the negotiations on a deal?

MR. MCCORMACK: As with all things, we view it as our responsibility to do what’s in the best interests of the United States and its interests. And you know, there’s no specific formula for that. It’s a case-by-case thing. In terms of the Iran – in establishing an interests section in Iran, the Secretary and the President took a look at it, then she explained to you our reasoning behind it. Each case is going to be different. Middle East peace, the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, that’s a separate case. We take each on their own terms, and we’re going to take a look at what is in the best interests of the United States and, you know, the goals of our national security and foreign policy.

And there’s also – again, I would go back to the point that I made earlier in the briefing to Bob’s question. There’s good information flow here. And we are being as transparent as we possibly can with the incoming folks. They’re going to make their own set of decisions. You know, I can’t tell you what those are going to be, as is their prerogative. We are going to continue to act up until January 20th at 12:01 in what we believe are the best interests of the United States.


QUESTION: Just one more. On the disablement of Yongbyon, this has been going on for more than a year now. Are you satisfied currently with the pace of disablement that is occurring there right now?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we would have liked to have had it done already, as would the – our other four parties that aren’t North Korea in the Six-Party Talks. It’s going at a pace appropriate to – you know, to the course of the negotiations itself. We would have liked to have moved beyond this point. You’ve heard us say that. We haven’t. But that doesn’t – you know, that doesn’t change our calculation. We still know what the goal is. We know what North Korea, as well as the other five parties, committed to back in ’05 and ’06 and ’07. We’re going to continue along that pathway.



QUESTION: Did you have the time to check this question about Georgia and how the Saakashvili government used the money, the aid money?

MR. MCCORMACK: I do. I did. And what I would – I would ask your indulgence because – I’ll give you an idea. This is stamped “draft,” but we’ll release it. So this is the answer. And if you guys would like for me to read it – I’m seeing negative reactions on that – I’ll post it up immediately after the briefing. It’s a detailed readout.

QUESTION: But can you tell me briefly if they used it to build a luxury hotel, as it was reported?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Let me post the answer that we have here. And if you have any further questions, then I’m happy to take it on.


QUESTION: Sounds like a yes to me.

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) No. No, no. Read the text.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Another issue on North Korea.


QUESTION: North Korea state media Chosŏn Central News Agency reported today that U.S. Government publicly acknowledged North Korea as a nuclear power for the first time. They cited a recent Defense Department annual report which has stated that there are five nuclear powers in Asia, which are China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Russia. So what is your comment on North Korea’s claim that U.S. Government publicly acknowledged them as a nuclear power?

MR. MCCORMACK: That is not our national policy, and that document does not – the document they referenced does not represent the official views of the United States.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:05 a.m.)


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