|Daily Press Briefing|
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
September 10, 2008
| Secretary’s Meetings on Capitol Hill
| Indian Government-IAEA Discussions
| Status of Hyde Amendment Package
| Name Issue
| Ethnic Minorities in the State Department
| Health Status of Kim Jong-il / Emphasis is on Outcomes of Six-Party Process
| Chris Hill’s Visit to Beijing
| North Korean Activities at Yongbyon / Removing Equipment from Storage / IAEA Seals
| U.S., Israeli and Palestinian Commitment to Annapolis Goals
| Possible Travel of President Abbas to Washington
| Upcoming Israeli Elections
| Russian Disagreement Over EU Monitors in Georgia
| Status of Russian Troops in Georgia and Akhazia
| U.S. Support for President Zardari
| Counterterrorism Cooperation / Globally Shared Threat from Violent Extremism
| Karzai’s Appearance at Inauguration / Shared Interests of Pakistan and Afghanistan
| Removal of Thai Prime Minister
| U.S. Support for the Thai People / Aspirations for Responsible, Responsive Elected Government
| Rejection of U.S. Offer of Assessment Team and Humanitarian Relief
| U.S. Will Continue to Work with countries in Region the Help People of Cuba
| Payments Into Special Fund / U.S. Fully Expects Libya to Fulfill its Obligations
| New U.S. Ambassador to Libya in Hands of Congress / Libyan Obligations
10:36 a.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning, everybody. I don’t have any statements to start off with, so we can get right to your questions.
QUESTION: I have nothing for you today, Sean.
MR. MCCORMACK: That’s fine. That’s fine, Matt. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Where do things stand on the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: A couple of questions. One, have the Indians done what they need to do for you to be able to make the determinations? Two, how did the Secretary’s meetings go yesterday on the Hill? And three, who is she going to see today?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let’s start with the process. We have – meetings yesterday, she saw Chairman Berman and Speaker Pelosi when she was up on the Hill. She was – she used the fact that she had a prescheduled meeting up on the Hill to talk about a different topic, Iraqi refugees, to also have some discussions regarding the India civ-nuke deal with the Chairman and the Speaker.
Today, she’ll see the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Reid, up on the Hill about 2:30 or so, about a half hour scheduled. And that meeting was set up to talk about the India civ-nuke deal and how to move it forward.
In terms of the Indians, I think the Indian Government and the IAEA are in the best position to describe where they are in their discussions. I think they’re – what’s the best way to put it – I think probably in the final stages, at least as of this morning, of arriving at the understanding and completing all the paperwork and exchanging the information that they needed to exchange.
QUESTION: On the additional protocol?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. As you pointed out, we need that last – we need that bit of information to include in the Hyde Amendment package. As I said yesterday, the Secretary is pushing to get that up by the end of the – today, up to the Hill by the end of today. We’ll – right now, it looks like we might be able to make that deadline. They’re still – it’s still going through the internal and interagency clearance process, and there are a number of administrative steps that you need to take in order to formally transmit something from the Executive Branch up to the Legislative Branch. But I think we’re – right now, standing here right now, I think we’re on a track to get that up there, pending that last piece from India and the IAEA.
QUESTION: What about India’s adherence to the NSG and MTCR guidelines, which is a separate but necessary addition?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I know we were working on that. I think we have that, but we’ll check for you – we’ll post you an answer for that.
QUESTION: Is she – sorry. Is she expecting to hear something, hopefully related to progress, on that from the Defense Minister when she’s here?
MR. MCCORMACK: This is a prescheduled visit, but I’m sure that – I’m sure the India civ-nuke deal will come up. They’ll also talk about India – U.S.-India military cooperation. I don’t know the specifics of it because I think it’s scheduled for – the meeting is actually scheduled for about 20 minutes or so.
QUESTION: And has – did she feel that she made progress yesterday in addressing – alleviating some of Chairman Berman’s concerns about the deal?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have not had a chance to talk to her about the meeting.
QUESTION: Okay. And how about Pelosi?
MR. MCCORMACK: Same holds there. I haven’t had a chance to see her. I haven’t seen her since yesterday afternoon to talk about the meetings, and I wouldn't want to try to convey any impressions other than her own of those meetings.
MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros?
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you. On FYROM.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, you told us yesterday that if Greece and FYROM were to reach a decision on the name issue, the U.S. Government is going to respect that. Do you mean that you will reverse the previous decision of November 4, 2004, when you implemented the name?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let’s take the facts as they are before us. Right now, Macedonia wants to be called Macedonia and we have decided we’re going to call it Macedonia. Others have taken separate decisions. So we’ll see. Let’s get to an agreement first and then we’ll deal with all those questions afterwards.
QUESTION: One more question on the same issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: U.S. is building right now in Skopje a huge military base, where also will be your new embassy, extremely close strategically to the Greek city of Thessaloniki. According to reports, this base is a continuation of the other one you have already since 1990 in Bosnia and Kosovo Serbian territory. I’m wondering, Mr. McCormack, what is the purpose of such unusual U.S. military buildup close to the Greek borders from the foreign policy –
MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ll be happy to look into it for you.
QUESTION: Any reaction to action by the Czech Government to approve the missile defense deal?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll have to check on that for you. I don’t have any update for you on that.
QUESTION: Yesterday, I had asked if it would be possible for the Department to release such statistics as it may have about minorities so that one could –
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: – gauge whether the Secretary’s unhappiness with this has improved or, you know – I mean, not her unhappiness, but if the underlying picture has gotten better or worse over the last few years?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, yes, exactly. Still working on getting that for you. We – just this morning, I took a look at some of the preliminary information that we were provided and I’m going to go back to people in the Human Resources department to see if they can get some more. So we’re in the process of actually trying to gather the information and present it to you in a usable form. So we’re not there yet. I still – I’m still committed to, as best I can, fulfilling your request, but we’re not there yet.
QUESTION: Great, okay.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Charlie.
QUESTION: It’s been 24 hours since the rumors of Kim Jong-il’s non-appearance in the parade surfaced. Do you have any new information that you could share with us – well, any information since we didn’t have any yesterday? Do you have any information you could share with us?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new, Charlie. I’ve seen the multitude of news stories out there. I’ve seen the North Koreans deny that there are any health problems with Kim Jong-il. I’m in the same position essentially that I was yesterday, in that I can’t talk about intelligence information. By that token, though, since I have seen all of the – these news reports and I’ve seen the North Korean reaction, I’m not in a position to discount all of these news reports that have been out there. But fundamentally, I can’t comment on intelligence information.
Our focus, regardless of these news reports, put those aside, is on the outputs of the Six-Party process. We have yet to see any of those outputs that have been required by the other five parties, as well as that North Korea has obligated itself to undertake. So we shall see. We’re going to continue to push. That was the reason for Chris Hill’s visit to Beijing, to try to encourage other members of the Six-Party Talks to use what leverage they have with North Korea to move the process forward.
QUESTION: What about any information Chris Hill may have picked up in Beijing that might not fall under intelligence categories?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. You know, again, I don’t think that he – there was anything he picked up that I can share with you. I would just have to fall back on what I – what I just said is I’m not in a position to discount all of these news reports that we have seen out there, but I’m also not in a position to confirm them, because they, as reported in the newspapers, rely on intelligence information.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about the impact that the health problems of Kim Jong-il could have on the Six-Party process?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, whatever the North Korean internal decision-making processes are and whomever might be participating in these – in those processes, we expect – and by we, I mean the other five parties – expect results. So regardless of who is taking the decisions or how they are arrived at in the North Korean system, they need to act. They need to act in order to move the process forward. They need to act in order to try to realize a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world, potentially with the United States as well. So regardless of who is involved and how they do it, you need the outputs. And we haven’t seen those yet.
QUESTION: Are you still trying – you know, I believe it was publicly disclosed that prior to Assistant Secretary’s trip to Beijing – Assistant Secretary Hill’s trip to Beijing last week, that he or somebody on his staff had informed through the New York channel the North Koreans that he was going to be there, the obvious point being if they wanted to send somebody, that he’d be happy to meet them.
Are you still trying to talk to them and are you getting any response from them? Or has everything sort of ground to a halt?
MR. MCCORMACK: Good question. I haven’t checked on that. I don’t know what our latest communications with them have been. I know that, certainly within the past month, we have had communications with them and – via a variety of different established channels, known channels, and including with Sung Kim. I know that he has interacted with them regarding the verification protocol and trying to convince them to move it forward. I’ll try to check –
QUESTION: Can you check?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll see what it is that we can say about our latest communications or at the very least try to give you a sense for whether the pace has – the frequency and the quality of them has declined or stayed the same or however we would characterize them. We’ll see what we can get for you.
QUESTION: I didn’t totally hear Arshad’s question, so I want to make sure that one of the elements of that was the last time you had communication through the New York channel.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I don’t – as a practice, I don’t comment – well, you know, we talked to them on X-date through the New York channel. It’s an active channel of communication. Any – on any given day, there may be some form of communication through that channel, whether it be on a substantive policy matter or some administrative bureaucratic matter. I’ll try to get an – I’ll try to get a sense for you and try to convey to you what kinds of communications recently we’ve had with them.
QUESTION: Sean, are you still optimistic that the Israelis and the Palestinians will reach a peace agreement before the end of this year?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they’re still working hard on it. They’re still committed to the goals stated at Annapolis. You’ve – we saw that during the Secretary’s last trip to the region. You know – you have – you know that the Secretary is still committed to those goals. The President is still committed to those goals.
Ultimately, it’s going to come down to the two sides working together to try to reach an agreement. We’re going to do whatever we can, along with our partners in the international community, to encourage them, to offer our good offices where they may be needed in trying to reach an agreement. But fundamentally, it’s going to come down to them. When we were there, both on the Palestinian side and the Israeli side, we heard a firm commitment to the Annapolis goals. So that’s the premise under which we are operating and will continue to operate.
QUESTION: President Abbas is coming to Washington. So do you expect anything from this visit?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I guess, you know, if he comes to Washington, he’d be visiting the White House, so I’ll let the White House confirm those meetings. But, you know, we have had a lot of quality interactions with President Abbas concerning this matter. We know his personal commitment, personal continuing commitment to the process and trying to move it forward. And we’ll look for any variety of means, whether it’s meetings here or back in the region, to try to move the process forward.
QUESTION: What about the leadership elections coming up? What impact and how much are you studying what’s happening there and how it could affect chances for a deal by the end of the year?
MR. MCCORMACK: In Israel? In the –
QUESTION: In Israel with the Kadima Party.
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, the Kadima Party? Well, that’s a matter for Israeli domestic politics. I mean, you know, clearly, politics on both sides is going to – will play into a judgment about a solution that is arrived at between the two parties ultimately. The two parties have been very good about not allowing either of their politics to play into this negotiation in the sense that they’re not talking about the details of their negotiations. So they’re not trying to use their own domestic politics one way or the other in a public way to try to influence the negotiations, and that’s positive.
Regardless of the outcome of the Kadima Party primary or in the election, we believe that whomever emerges as the leader and eventual prime minister will be committed to this process. You look down the list of people who are cited by experts in the Israeli political class and this is a group of people that are committed as a group, as a party, and as individuals, to the process and to moving it forward.
QUESTION: So you doubt there will be much impact, then, on the course of the Annapolis process? I mean –
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’ll see. Again, you’ve heard – you heard from, as a party and as a government and as individuals, all of them – you know, that whole package are committed to moving the process forward.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on this latest apparent disagreement between Lavrov and the EU on the negotiating efforts over Georgia? Lavrov says that, you know, what was signed in Tbilisi and unveiled there wasn’t what the Russians had agreed to. It has to do with the EU monitors. And apparently, in Tbilisi, they said the EU monitors would move into the whole of Georgia, and Lavrov says that that’s not what they had agreed to in Moscow.
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, these guys are trying to – at every turn, trying to wiggle out of a commitment they made and that their president put his name to. You know, we’ve seen it since August and it continues. They need to get out of Georgia and they need to stop finding excuses to do that. There – I guess the next deadline that they have committed themselves to is coming up on Monday, I believe, on the 15th, where they said – President Medvedev, once again, said that he is going to get his troops out of Georgia.
I would note one quite concerning remark that has been attributed to the Russian Government and to various officials, whether that’s Prime – President Medvedev or Foreign Minister Lavrov, saying that they were going to keep 3,800 Russian troops both in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. That, of course, would be a violation of the ceasefire that they signed in August. So Russia – Russia and their government and their troops need to abide by the – their international commitments, bottom line.
QUESTION: You’re saying that announcement that they would, you know, have more troops in the two breakaway regions is a violation –
MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely.
QUESTION: – because it’s –
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, absolutely.
QUESTION: – not their pre-conflict position?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. What they agreed to is getting their troops back to pre-August 6 positions. And we’ll try to – I don’t know if we have down to the single soldier the number of Russian troops that were in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but it was right around, for each of those places, right around 1,000, maybe a little bit more. And the prescribed limits were, I think, right around 1,500, under the operative international agreements. So 3,800 in each of those areas separately, a total of 7,600, is a clear violation, not only of previous accords, but the ceasefire accord.
QUESTION: Again, on North Korea. Do you have any update on activities in Yongbyon? I know you’ve explained to us that –
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: – they are in a second phase. But is there any movement?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have anything new to report for you today. I don’t have – I’m not aware of any steps that they have taken that would actually get them to that – you know, what I view as the – roughly, as that third phase where you actually have an operational reversal of what they have done.
QUESTION: But in your understanding, something is going on or –
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. We have observed, because we still have personnel on the ground up there, they’re moving around equipment, taking equipment out of storage. I think the IAEA has talked in public about reports that some of the seals have been broken. But again, this is – and I’m not trying to dismiss in any way the fact that not only have they not moved the process forward, but they’ve taken some steps that might call into question their commitment to the process. But they haven’t yet gotten to a point where there’s an operational reversal of what they have done, meaning Yongbyon is up and running again.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Zardari inauguration in Pakistan? And what do you think – do you think he’s going to improve the counterterrorism efforts there?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, of course, we look forward to working with the new President and congratulate him on his election, as well as being sworn in as President. And we look forward to working closely with this government on issues of mutual interest and mutual concern. For us, right at the top of that list is counterterrorism cooperation. And I suspect that the Pakistanis would say that would be – that same issue would be at the top of their list as well. Because the threat from these violent extremists is as grave for them as it is for those in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world that is potentially threatened by terrorism. So they have a stake in this. The government and the people of Pakistan have as much a stake in this as all the rest of the world.
So with that thought in mind, we are going to continue working very closely with them. We have worked well with them. There’s always room for improvement. There’s always headroom in these kinds of efforts, so we’re going to look to maximize the effectiveness of our efforts, their efforts, and our cooperative efforts.
QUESTION: Is it a good sign that Karzai was there for the inauguration?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that is a – that certainly was a positive step and a gesture by President Karzai, yes. Look, they have – as I just pointed out, Afghanistan and Pakistan have a shared interest here. They have a shared interest in what happens along that border region. Because what happens in that – along that border region is going to directly affect the future stability of both of those countries. So they have a shared interest in this endeavor and as do we have an interest in the endeavor.
QUESTION: Sean, have you received any request from former President Musharraf to visit the U.S. or –
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware of any. Not aware of any.
QUESTION: Thailand. What’s your reaction to the removal of the Thai Prime Minister yesterday?
MR. MCCORMACK: That’s a matter for internal Thai politics.
QUESTION: Do we have any assessment that the country is indeed in a political crisis or even chaos?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll – well, anytime you have a removal of a prime minister, obviously that is a significant political event in the course of a country. But Thailand has demonstrated that its democracy has – is still able to function despite some real challenges over the past year or year and a half to that democracy. So we are going to do what we continue to – we’re going to continue to try to support the aspirations of the Thai people for having a responsive elected government that works on their behalf and is a responsible partner not only in the region but globally.
QUESTION: And are we in any contact with the governing coalition ahead of the nomination of a new prime minister on Friday?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not a – I just don’t know. Look, we – I’ll be happy to check for you. And if there’s anything we can offer, we’ll put it out.
QUESTION: On the hurricanes in Cuba, is there any change on the negotiations for the relief –
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new. I – Tom Shannon, I think, sat down with the head of the Interests Section yesterday and renewed our offer of an assessment team to go down there, as well as humanitarian relief, and that was not accepted.
QUESTION: Again? A second time?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it was not accepted. But we’re going to continue to work with countries in the region to see what we can do to help the people of Cuba.
QUESTION: And this $100,000, is any increase contemplated or –
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’re taking a look at what we might do. I don’t have any additional information for you beyond what we’ve already announced.
QUESTION: Has the Libyan Government paid into the special fund to settle the terrorism (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware that they’ve fulfilled their obligations yet.
QUESTION: Is that –
MR. MCCORMACK: We fully expect that they will. We heard from them while the Secretary was in Libya that they would.
QUESTION: It has been a week. Is that a concern, the time –
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’d like it to happen as soon as possible.
QUESTION: And is it a worry for the Department that that will hold up the approval of the new ambassador?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I – you know, that’s in Congress’s hands. But I think all of these things are linked. And you know, Libya fully understands that if they don’t undertake their obligations, then the second part to the agreement and the law here in the United States doesn't kick in. So these things are all tied up, I assume, in the eyes of the Congress, with respect to the nomination of – moving forward on the ambassador. We would, of course, like to move forward with that. But the Libyans, I think, are fully aware of the political reality of the situation here in the United States.
QUESTION: Well, what’s the holdup for the payments – I mean, what’s the explanation?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing that I can offer you here in public. You can probably, you know, talk to the Libyans, see if they have an explanation for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros.
QUESTION: Yes, one on Cyprus. Mr. McCormack, do you know if the Department of State is going to allocate some money, as in the Annan plan era, in order to facilitate Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat to reach an agreement on the Cyprus issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. I’ll look into it for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
(The briefing was concluded at 10:58 p.m.)
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