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Near East Daily Press Briefing

Near East Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 19, 2008



View Video

10:37 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: Zimbabwe.


QUESTION: President Mugabe has said that – or is quoted as having offered to name Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister. Do you take this seriously, or do you think this is another dodge on the part of Mugabe?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I haven’t seen a response from Mr. Tsvangirai, but one suspects, given the history of Mr. Mugabe in these kinds of proposals, that this is probably just a head fake. He – you know, he probably sees a lot of the pressure growing on him, and he’s looking for a way out, potentially. I don’t know. I can’t tell you exactly what his motivations might be. But again, based on history, one would take such a proposal with a grain of salt.

QUESTION: And about Mugabe, he just said Zimbabwe is mine and he vowed never to surrender to calls to step down. So do you have any reaction to “Zimbabwe is mine”?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, last time the world checked, Zimbabwe belonged to the people of Zimbabwe. You know, again, it’s a statement that I think sums up in a concise way what is at the root of Zimbabwe’s problems.

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QUESTION: Which is?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he thinks that the state of Zimbabwe and the people of Zimbabwe are there only to serve his interests. It’s the other way around, or it should be the other way around. Those who govern should govern in the interest of the governed. The governed should be able to determine who governs them and in what manner. And in a democracy, which Mr. Mugabe says Zimbabwe is, supposedly, they should be able to freely express their views through the ballot box. They clearly haven’t been able to. Hence, our statements from – you heard from the President as well as the Secretary over the past couple weeks, as well as many, many, many others in the international system.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything more about the Secretary’s phone calls, any other sort of action on – in this regard in the last few days?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there was – it was a topic of intense discussion within the Security Council and on the sidelines of her meetings at the UN both Monday and Tuesday of this week. I’m just looking here if there are any other updates for you. I don’t have any other updates on this matter concerning phone calls.

QUESTION: Do you think that Secretary Rice will be talking to the Ukrainians at all today about trying to help them in their financial crisis? I mean, the currency, apparently, just in the last couple of days, has just really totally crashed. And you know, Russia says it’s not going to give them any more gas because they’re way behind in their debt. Everybody is afraid the IMF loan is going to have to be all spent on supporting the currency. So I just wondered if there’s anything that, you know, that you guys can do –

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not going to venture into the world of currency markets. No, thank you. Look, they’re going to talk about the wide range of the U.S.-Ukraine bilateral relationship. They’re going to sign a memorandum of understanding.

Let me get you the exact terms here. It’s going – the United States-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership. And this just outlines areas of cooperation, everything from defense, to economic, trade relations, energy, security, democracy, and cultural exchanges, and just about everything in between.

QUESTION: Is there any sort of hard substance to that? I mean, does it increase, you know, consultations? You know, you have strategic dialogues with other countries that periodically meet at various levels. Or is this just kind like we can work together on all these things, and we’re going to define later just how we’ll do that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, I think there is substance to it. We’re – I don’t have here whether or not this – the signing of this will constitute any particular groups, like strategic dialogue groups. But it outlines very, you know, specifically areas of cooperation and a roadmap for those areas of cooperation, so you’ve more clearly defined where you think it can work, for example, on HIV/AIDS, in a cooperative way where there’s mutual interest. So there’s substance there and it provides a roadmap. We do this with a lot of – these sorts of things with a lot of countries, as you know.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) give them any advice on what to do when the Russian lease on Sevastopol runs out? I think that’s next year.

MR. MCCORMACK: They’ll have to deal with that themselves in the context of their relationship with Russia.

QUESTION: Can you explain what it means -- this idea of opening a diplomatic presence in the Crimea?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’re considering opening an American Presence Post in the Crimea, in the Crimean capital of Simferopol to expand a cultural – to expand exchanges and promote mutual understanding between the United States and the Crimean region. And these American – well, you know what they are, but just for everybody else who might be interested in them. They’re just, you know, one-person or two-person diplomatic post, very small. That person does a whole variety of different work – you know, work from doing cultural exchanges, cultural events, to doing political reporting, that sort of thing.

QUESTION: And when –

MR. MCCORMACK: And so we’re considering it. We’re not –

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: It’s yet another American incursion into Russia’s historic sphere of influence, right? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: When is this –


Yeah. When is this?


MR. MCCORMACK: We’re considering opening, so that’s the language that I have here. So I don’t have a date for you, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, you only have a few weeks to consider it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, so that means we have a few weeks to consider it.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, is this something that this Administration is going to do, or is this something that will be – that will bubble and percolate through to the administration?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can’t – Matt, I don’t have an answer for you on that. I’l – since you’ve expressed a deep interest in that, I will –


MR. MCCORMACK: I will – no, it’s an important issue. I will get you an answer.


QUESTION: Is that in the text of this agreement or –

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I have not seen the text of the agreement. We’ll try to – I’ll try to get an answer to that question, too.

QUESTION: On Russia itself?


QUESTION: Have you seen these comments by the Deputy Foreign Minister, where they’re pretty harsh –


QUESTION: -- about your negotiating tactic in the – to the START replacement?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I haven’t seen that. Who was this – what was he saying? This was in meetings with John Rood?

QUESTION: I believe so, yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Well, I think John –

QUESTION: And complained that –

MR. MCCORMACK: John talked a lot about this, I think, with you folks

QUESTION: Yeah, I know. But this is a new statement that’s come out since then. I mean, are you –

MR. MCCORMACK: I have not seen it. I have not seen it.

QUESTION: All right.


QUESTION: Going back to the – this diplomatic – this is going to be like a consulate or –

MR. MCCORMACK: An American Presence Post?


MR. MCCORMACK: No, it’s not a consulate. It is exactly that, American Presence Post. This is – they started during, I believe, the Clinton Administration in France where the Ambassador there started – had the idea of opening up these very small presence posts throughout the country because he thought it was a very good idea to try to get a better feel for what’s going on outside the capital and outside the consulates, and also to have an American presence in those places. And it’s a concept that has proven its worth over time and that has been replicated in other countries, you know, other countries where we have representation around the world.


QUESTION: Well, France is one thing. I mean, how do you deal with the undoubted questions that will come from Russia, you know, the – seeing this as a provocative act, somehow protective of the Crimea, that it will stay with Ukraine?


QUESTION: Wow. Now I’m sorry I asked the question.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, yeah. (Laughter.) So am I. (Laughter.) Look, this is about U.S.-Ukraine bilateral relations. You know, if the Russian Government chooses to be upset by – you know, by my stating that we’re considering opening up an American – you know, a one-person or a two-person American Presence Post, well, there’s not much I can do about that then.

QUESTION: Speaking about Russia being upset, for 200. (Laughter.) Russia – we have a story saying that Russia – quoting the commander of Russia’s strategic missile forces that Russia would stop developing some strategic weapons if the United States dropped its plans for the missile defense installations in Europe.


QUESTION: Does that pique your interest?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we’re still interested in is cooperating with the Russians on missile defense. I will keep saying it, probably until the last day I’m up here at the podium that this is not about Russia. Missile defense is not about Russia. I would say it in Russian if I could, although I think the Secretary probably has already. You know, they persist in this idea -- and I can only assume they believe it -- that missile defense is somehow directed and is some form of threat against Russia. I think the facts – an examination of the facts by any rational person would yield the conclusion that 10 interceptors in Europe and the associated radar are not a threat to the thousands of the Russian nuclear warheads. Missile defense is to provide some extra level of security and political options in the event of a crisis of a launch or a threat of a launch from a country, for example, like Iran, which we know is developing long-range missiles.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: I do what I can.


QUESTION: Yeah. Could you talk about the conflict with the Office of the Historian, the charges about mismanage – that some people on the Committee say that the office has been mismanaged, that the foreign relations series is in jeopardy because of this mismanagement? And you know, there was a very contentious meeting in which you didn’t want to participate anymore.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Just for full disclosure, you know the Office of the Historian reports to me as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. There’s a difference of opinion between some members of the historian’s – Historical Advisory Committee, which is an advisory committee to the Department of State regarding the compilation of the Foreign Relations seriesof the United States.

I stated it in the meeting to which you refer, and I’ll state it here publicly, I have no problem with people doing a critical examination of the FRUS series, its quality, its timeliness. But I have not seen anybody -- and I asked the Committee this – I said, you know, please show me, demonstrate for me, give me an example where there’s been substandard scholarship in the FRUS. They have not been able to do that. Instead, what we saw in this meeting and what I heard in this meeting, and what I objected to, frankly, was the personal nature of the attack and the introduction into the public record of anonymous allegations, anonymous personal allegations against individuals, which I frankly thought was completely out of bounds, and I stated so in public.

QUESTION: A couple of days ago, you or Robert were – was asked about this summit, Latin America summit, that was happening in Brazil, which – to which you were not invited and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Must have been Robert.

QUESTION: Yes. Anyway, they’ve had their meeting now, and they say that they want to create this regional community group, a Latin Americas group, and exclude the U.S. Do you have any –

MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn’t seen the final statement out of the group. But look, we have – you know, our involvement in the region, both bilaterally and in multilateral organizations like the Organization of American States is robust, it’s active, and we have terrific relationships with virtually every country in the hemisphere. We would like to have terrific relationships with every country in the hemisphere. Unfortunately, there are some – in a couple of exceptions, there have been some differences over the way that countries have chosen to govern. But again, we don’t discriminate left, right, center of the political spectrum. We want to have good relations with all countries in the hemisphere. There are some obstacles, however, to that.

QUESTION: Okay. And I have one more. It’s the –


QUESTION: -- your favorite – your favorite subject, the shoe tosser in Iraq. An Iraqi judge is saying that –

MR. MCCORMACK: We seem to have somebody rummaging around in the equipment closet back there.

QUESTION: They’re looking for shoes. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: I guess so. It sounds like they’re trying to get something a little heavier than that, Charlie, so I hope the podium is sturdy. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Anyway, this judge –

MR. MCCORMACK: Please, go ahead. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: This judge says that it does appear that this – that the guy was beaten up. And I’m just wondering if they’re going to open an investigation into whether he was mistreated or not, and I’m just wondering if you have any comment about the general –

MR. MCCORMACK: This is –

QUESTION: -- about this latest development.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I don’t – you know, I hadn’t seen those comments, Matt. We said yesterday this is for Iraqi authorities to deal with. Certainly, nobody wants anybody to be mistreated while they’re in custody. I can’t attest to these allegations, however.


QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the surge in tension in and around Gaza now that the truce has been broken?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I said the other day, the interests of the people of the region, both Palestinians in Gaza as well as Israelis, are served by not having violence along that border. The people of Gaza have been ill-served by Hamas. They have – Hamas has only sought to create tensions and to try to derail efforts to arrive at a peaceful political solution between Israel and the Palestinians. And we would only hope that we see a continuation of the diminishment in levels of violence along that Gaza border.

QUESTION: And then you would like to see a restoration of the ceasefire?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is something that was worked out involving the Israelis, involving the Palestinians, and I believe with the help of the Egyptians, and we weren’t involved in those efforts. I would only comment it from the perspective of you don’t want to see violence anywhere, because it’s only innocent people that are affected by it.

QUESTION: So – but I don’t get why – I mean, the Russians, for example, have said that they were not directly involved in establishing the ceasefire, but they have come out and said publicly they’d like to see it restored. And I wonder why you –

MR. MCCORMACK: Whatever the mechanism is, I mean, ultimately, what you want to see is a group like Hamas turn away from use of violence, abjure the use of violence, abjure terrorism. We’re not at that point yet. So that’s what we would like to see. Whatever the mechanism is that is acceptable to the Israeli Government to not see violence used against its citizens, then, of course, we’re not going to stand in the way of that. But – so I’m coming it at it from a little different perspective.

You know, what we would like to see is Hamas be an organization that has completely turned away from terror. They haven’t done that. In the meantime, you have had these efforts at a truce, a hudna. And certainly, the fact that you haven’t had for some period of time violence along that border is a good thing for the people that –

QUESTION: Well, I mean, one other thing. You said that Hamas has done nothing but seek to derail the efforts to achieve a political solution.


QUESTION: But presumably, the fact that – and the levels of violence have indeed decreased under this ceasefire. I know they haven’t gone away. There have been rockets fired, but at a much lower rate than prior to the ceasefire. And I know that there have been Israeli actions, too But again, less than previously. Presumably, the fact that Hamas chose, to some degree, to abjure from violence to some degree over this period was, in fact, something that created political space for the continuation of the negotiations that you’ve worked so hard on.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. I guess – you know, again, the lack of violence along the borders in the interest of the people there, whether or not that has actually contributed to the ability of the Israeli Government and President Abbas to move forward the negotiating process, you would have to talk to both parties. I’m not equipped to make that political assessment of the situation in Israel as well as in the Palestinian areas.

And what I was referring to is the fact that, you know, Hamas continues to try to rebuild its strength, that it continues to be an obstacle to a political settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, this diminution in the use of terror and violence notwithstanding.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Goyal, you had something?

QUESTION: A different, new subject.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yep, make it short.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Two questions: One, right after the Mumbai attacks, the Secretary went to India. And before, India had an anti-terror act but it was removed by the new Congress Party several years ago, and now they are still again considering to put it back. Has the Secretary had any discussions about that and – as far as new anti-terror act in India?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, that’s – you know, the laws of India are a matter for the Indian people and the Indian Government to decide upon

QUESTION: And the second one – UN had some actions taken as far as Mumbai attacks, those who were linked in Pakistan, and – but they had already before banned all these groups and – but they keep coming back on the streets and running the same business of killing innocent people and running their terrorist acts, and now there are house arrests. Do you take that under, now, consideration or in acting on a – in a new way as far as arresting those people and coming back on the streets and under the different name or same name?

MR. MCCORMACK: Goyal, I’ve spent a lot of words and a lot of time talking about this. I really don’t have much to add beyond what I’ve already said.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.

QUESTION: Have a nice weekend.

MR. MCCORMACK: You, too.

(The briefing was concluded at 10:57 a.m.)


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