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State Department Briefing, March 7

07 March 2006

Zoellick travel to Europe, Russia, Iran, Bangladesh, North Korea, Iraq, Sudan, Palestinians, India

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack briefed reporters March 7.  Following is the transcript of the briefing:

(begin transcript)

Daily Press Briefing Index
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
12:40 p.m. EST

Sean McCormack, Spokesman

STATEMENT
Deputy Secretary Zoellick to Travel to Europe for Discussions on Sudan

RUSSIA
-- World Trade Organization Accession Negotiations
-- Read-out of Secretary Rice's Meetings with Foreign Minister Lavrov / Russia's Discussions with Iran
-- Russia's Discussions with Hamas / Quartet Statement / Humanitarian Assistance to Palestinian People
-- G8 Summit / Possible Meeting of Foreign Ministers without Russia
-- Concerns about Democracy in Russia / Discussion of Implementation of NGO Law / Read-out of Dinner with Lavrov
-- Discussion of Syria and Lebanon / Full Implementation of Resolution 1559
-- No Discussion of Belarus
-- Discussion of Kosovo Final Status

IRAN
-- Read Out of Secretary Rice's Phone Call with Dr. ElBaradei / IAEA Board of Governors Meeting / Compliance with Non-Proliferation Treaty / Support for Russian Proposal / Enrichment Activities / Referral to the UN Security Council / Sanctions and First Steps

BANGLADESH
-- Arrest of Sidiqul Islam / Partners in Global War on Terrorism

NORTH KOREA
-- Counterfeiting Briefing in New York
-- U.S. Urges North Korea to Return to Six Party Talks

IRAQ
-- Ambassador Khalilzad's Comments / Iraqis Overcoming History of Oppression / Iraqi Leaders Coming Together
-- Payment for Release of Hostages / Hostage Working Group
-- Addressing Issue of Kirkuk

SUDAN
Deputy Secretary Zoellick's Travel to Europe / Discussions of the Situation in Darfur / Meeting with Secretary-General of NATO / NATO Roll in Sudan

PALESTINIANS
Working with President Abbas / Support of Interim Government

INDIA
Bombings in Varanasi / Condemnation of Terrorist Acts

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

TUESDAY, MARCH 7, 2006
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

12:40 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK:  Good afternoon, everybody.  How are you?  I have one brief note for you, to begin with, and then we can get right into the questions and this concerns Deputy Secretary Zoellick's travel -- be leaving later this afternoon to travel to Brussels and Paris to consult with European and African leaders on ways to provide humanitarian and security support to ease the suffering of millions of people in Darfur and Eastern Chad and to strengthen implementation of the landmark Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan and to bolster international efforts aimed at bringing peace and stability throughout Sudan.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike) who else he's meeting with (inaudible) officials?

MR. MCCORMACK:  He's going to be meeting in Brussels.  He's going to see NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.  He will also be meeting in Paris at the Sudan Consortium Conference.  We will have a longer media -- I'll put a longer media note out after the briefing on this with more information than you could possibly use in any one story.

QUESTION:  I'm not going to be the one writing this.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Okay.  All right. So with that, I'm happy to jump into your questions.

QUESTION:  What is the -- maybe everybody but I knows, but what is the hang-up with our WTO for Russia?  He singled out Lavrov did -- the United States is the sole -- impediment or whatever -- holdout if that's the word -- for membership -- for accession.  What does the U.S. need to see happen before it would support Russia, because apparently they want it real bad?

MR. MCCORMACK:  They've been working on it for some time.  This is something that USTR, United States Trade Representative Portman has been working on it with his counterpart, Mr. Gref, for some time.  There's a list of issues, I know that they have yet to reach agreement on.  I know that President Bush and President Putin have spoken about this. Secretary Rice spoke about it with Foreign Minister Lavrov in their meeting as well.  So this is trade negotiations, Barry.  And sometimes it takes awhile.  These are tough, hard-fought negotiations anytime you involve these types of issues, regarding WTO accession.  Secretary Rice made it clear that we're not trying to change the playing field one way or the other for the Russian Government, not make it easier or not make it tougher, for WTO accession.  So the USTR folks and the Russian Government are going to continue to work on it.  I don't have the specific list for you, Barry, on the issues they're working on.

QUESTION:  No, no, that's fine.  Will it be happy ending, do you suppose, one that the Russians find acceptable?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, we're working to complete an agreement, so I would check with USTR to find out exactly where we are on it, Barry.

Okay.

QUESTION:  Staying on Russia and Iran.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) want to know do you have anything new regarding the Secretary Rice and her counterpart, Russia counterpart, regard to Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I don't know.  I think they had pretty complete answers upstairs.  They just -- they had good meetings last night over dinner and then again this morning with a number of aides present.  They talked about a variety of issues.  I think Secretary Rice touched on most of them.  They talked about Iran.  They talked about Hamas. They talked about Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Georgia.  They talked about G-8 and Kosovo.  The list goes on and on.  But I think that in terms of the state of play, with respect to Russia and Iran, you heard from Secretary Rice, but more importantly from Foreign Minister Lavrov, about where the Russian Government stands on their discussions with Iran.

Teri.

QUESTION:  Yeah, staying on that.  This is still confusing, though, that both of them said there's no Russian proposal, yet there's still so much discussion about something that maybe wouldn't be called a proposal, but there's some initiative that's still being discussed.

MR. MCCORMACK:  All I can say is go check your sources.  You heard from the Foreign Minister of Russia upstairs who said no new proposal, there can't be -- it can't be compromised.  Iran needs to fulfill the requirements of the February IAEA Board of Governors resolution.  So wherever you happen to be getting this from, I don't know.  You can go back and check with them.  But you heard it on the record from the Foreign Minister of Russia upstairs.

QUESTION:  But the Secretary called Mohamed ElBaradei yesterday apparently checking on the same sort of --

MR. MCCORMACK:  If she did, I think Mr. Casey talked to you about that phone call.  I don't have anything to add to the substance of it.  They did talk about it.  They did talk about Iran.  The Secretary reiterated where we stand.  But in terms of Russia, there is no new proposal.  You heard that from the Russian Foreign Minister.

QUESTION:  Well, can I follow up?  What he said today kind of seemed to be a softening of the Russian position from several days ago and earlier in the week.  The Russian -- I know this is a foreign minister saying that, but the Russian envoy in Vienna seemed to indicate that they were working towards some proposal.  And then in Ottawa, Foreign Minister Lavrov seemed to indicate that there could be some kind of way of finessing this so that perhaps there was a way to make an agreement with some kind of small research and development capacity.  So when you say that there's no proposal, is it because a proposal was discussed and rejected or the Russians never floated any kind of proposal to the U.S. that you found unpalatable?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Certainly not with Secretary Rice.

QUESTION:  What about to other U.S. officials?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION:  We didn't talk about the ElBaradei call on the record yesterday.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, they --

QUESTION:  What was the genesis of it, because at one point yesterday, you know, ElBaradei had said that agreement was within reach within the week and it happened to be on a sticking point with centrifuge research and development, so -- I mean, did the Secretary call because of that issue?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I don't have the genesis of who called who, whether it was Mr. ElBaradei who called the Secretary or vice versa.  The Secretary, in any case, thought it was useful to touch base on where we were with respect to the Iranians.  The Board of Governors meeting was starting, I believe, yesterday on the 6th, so I think it's logical that they would talk.  She underlined where we stood with respect to Iran.  That it was important that the Iranians fulfill the obligations that were outlined in the IAEA Board of Governors resolution.  It's important I think for the IAEA, as an institution, to insist upon the fact that its resolutions are followed by member states of the NPT.

QUESTION:  Did she say she wouldn't accept any such proposal to do small-scale enrichment work?  Some reports had suggested that.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I think she made clear upstairs that in our view enrichment activity on Iranian soil is something that is not in the interest of the mission of the NPT, which is not to allow signatory states to acquire nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program.

QUESTION:  What's not clear is whether enrichment on Russian soil is questionable.  You learn things from the process, even if a friend is looking over their shoulder and making sure there is no instant military applications, a process is being learned that's hard to -- I mean, experts say this; I'm not an expert.  That it's hard to distinguish between civilian and military application.  And I'm not clear yet, because the U.S. has been lukewarmly in support of the Russian initiative, lukewarm, not enthusiastic.  And now I'm getting the impression you're not, even if there is still a Russian proposal that's live.  Are you against enrichment by Iran anyplace?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, what we support, Barry, is the Russian proposal.  They've made it.  The Iranians have in various ways and in so many words rejected it out of hand.  And that consists of -- and the Secretary talked about this upstairs a little bit -- doing enrichment activities on Russian soil done by the Russians.  And so what they would do is they would provide the fuel, the highly-enriched uranium, to the Iranian Government so they could fuel peaceful nuclear reactors.  Once that fuel has met -- gone through its lifecycle, then it would be returned to the Russian Government so it couldn't be diverted for weapons purposes.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Now in terms of the specific arrangements in Russia -- I don't think that they have even gotten that far with the Iranians.  Certainly the world would not want Iran to acquire the know-how to do enrichment, whether it be in Iran or anywhere else.  That's the whole point of this exercise is to prevent Iran from achieving the know-how to do enrichment because -- and those concerns center on Iran's past behavior.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Sure.  Libby.

QUESTION:  With the consensus being reaffirmed today, sort of, you know, between the Russians and the U.S., is there any sense that the Iranians will do an about-face and change their ways?  Do you have sense that they're going to come around here before next week?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, we'll see.  We'll see.  That has been our hope for quite some time is that they would find themselves before the Security Council and, because of that fact, they would actually decide to change their behavior.  Thus far, we have not seen any real action on the Iranians part to change their behavior.  We've seen them throwing up a lot of chaff.  They're spending a lot of time on airplanes going around to capitals around the world, but thus far we haven't seen anything from the Iranians that would indicate that they actually are going to, in a serious way, comply with what the IAEA has asked them to do, not just the United States, but the IAEA.  So we'll see.

We'll see.  It has been our hope that through the diplomatic processes that we have been following here where there's a been a gradually increasing level of pressure and attention paid to Iran and its activities that they would see it as in their interest to abide by what the world is asking them to do.

Yes, sir.  Is it on this topic?

QUESTION:  No.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Okay.  We'll come back to you.

QUESTION:  Sure.  Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK:  You get the first one not on Iran.

QUESTION:  To follow-up on what you're saying, Secretary Rice said even today that -- and has said in the past -- that the U.S. isn't -- or the Security Council isn't really considering sanctions at this point.  So where does Iran --

MR. MCCORMACK:  As a first step.

QUESTION:  As a first step, but I mean, as we know, these processes in the United Nations take some time and some of the things that officials are talking about in terms of the trajectory in terms of what's going to happen at the Security Council, it doesn't look like sanctions are going to be imposed on Iran anytime soon.  So where does Iran see the consequences right now of not complying if you've already gone on the record and said that this is going to be a gradual process without real tough measures against them?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, you want to -- throughout this process, we also want to give Iran an opportunity to climb back from where it has put itself.  So that's the idea that we had when, in London, we made an agreement with the other members of the P-5 whereby at the February Board of Governors meeting, Iran would be referred, reported, to the Security Council, but the Security Council would not at that point take action.  That was back in February.  So now we -- so they had a month.  The Iranians had a month to consider the position in which they found themselves.  Thus far, they have chosen not to react and to meet the demands of the IAEA Board of Governors.

Now once the IAEA Board of Governors meeting ends, I think it lasts until the 8th, we'll see what it is that they decide.  There's going to be a full report from the IAEA.  That also gets sent to the Security Council.  So we'll see what the Iranians choose to do and we'll see what actions are going to be taken in the Security Council.  As was mentioned upstairs, there's going to be a point of discussion over the next couple days.

Yes.  Anything else on Iran?  Yes.  Okay, we're going to move around here.  Yeah, we're going to move around here.

QUESTION:  You just mentioned the change.  Is it really the matter of change only you consider or the matter of change, how about the matter of trust to the Iranian government?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I think implied in what has happened with the IAEA Board of Governors is a breakdown in trust between Iran and the international community and that breakdown of trust has resulted from the Iranian regime's behavior.  So as a way to at least get back to the point where there is the beginnings of some trust relationship between the international community and the Iranian Government on this matter, they have to meet the demands of the IAEA.  And those were very clearly laid out and I think there are six actions that the Board of Governors resolution calls upon them to take.  One of those is to immediately return to the moratorium that they had previously agreed to, concerning enrichment on Iranian soil.  So we'll see.  We'll see what they do, but we're working very closely with other members of the international community with the IAEA Board of Governors, with the other members of the Security Council.

On Iran?

QUESTION:  Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Okay.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  So the Secretary mentioned that it's not going to be the first step in the Security Council to ask for sanctions.  So what are you going to ask for in the next time in the Security Council?  Is it going to be asking for sanctions the second time or the third time?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I'm not going to prejudge where we might come out as a first step in the Security Council.  We're having those discussions right now with other members of the Security Council.  There are a variety of diplomatic options at the disposal of the Security Council and I'm not going to try to prejudge how this might play out.  What we all hope is that the Iranian regime will heed the call of the international community so that further steps might not be necessary.  But the international community must be prepared, should Iran not make that choice, to look at what other diplomatic options are available.

QUESTION:  I want to (inaudible) same thing.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Both the Secretary and the White House spokesman have made it clear that on the first step or immediately at least, there will be not -- there'll be words; it will not be a move for sanctions.  And you seem to be leaving the whole thing up as under discussion right now in consideration.  There's no judgment yet, no conclusion yet.

MR. MCCORMACK:  No.  There's no conclusion about what the first step is, Barry.

QUESTION:  Tactically.

MR. MCCORMACK:  But we have -- yeah, tactically.  But I said and I hope you didn't take anything that I said as implying that sanctions might be the first step.

QUESTION:  No, but that it's open.  You're still trying to make your mind up, I took from what you said.  Whereas I took from what Rice and the White House spokesman are saying is that at the outset at least we won't go for sanctions.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I guess I fail to see what you're talking about, Barry.  But you know, I've made very clear in what I've said.  I think here today as well as previously that that is not the first step.  The Secretary said that -- heard it from the White House.  So I don't -- not sure that I see whereas I have said anything differently.

QUESTION:  Okay.  No.  Just long as we are --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Okay.

QUESTION:  -- are on the same page.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Happy to work with you.

QUESTION:  What's the first step going to be?

MR. MCCORMACK:  What's that?

QUESTION:  What's the first step going to be --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Like I said, Samir, we're going to be talking to our colleagues on the Security Council about what those first steps might be.

QUESTION:  Is the U.S. looking for a presidential statement?  Is that what the U.S. would want?

MR. MCCORMACK:  We'll see.  Next step -- we're working on it.  Okay.  Are we done with Iran?  Okay.  Let me go back to this gentleman here.

QUESTION:  Well, thank you.  This is (inaudible) Arshad.  Question on Bangladesh.  Within a span of five days, Bangladesh law enforcement agencies have captured two most-wanted terrorist leaders.  First banned JMB, the Jannii Aytol Mujaheddin leader Abdur Rahman and then later terrorist mastermind Bangla Bhai.  What is the reaction of the State Department?  And as a follow-up, has any top official of the Bush Administration commended this arrest and do you foresee the United States more assistance in counterintelligence measures when it assists Bangladesh to combat effectively extremist elements like Bangla Bhai and Abdur Rahman?

MR. MCCORMACK:  While we note -- we do note that Saddiqul Islam, otherwise known as Bangla Bhai, was arrested.  We believe that this is an important step forward in Bangladesh's response to the recent bombing campaign and that we encourage Bangladesh to continue to address the threat of extremism and we'll work closely with the Bangladeshi Government on fighting the war against terrorism.  We have a good partner in Bangladesh in fighting the war against terrorism and we look forward to working together to address the common threat of terrorism that we all face.

Sue.

QUESTION:  On Hamas, Foreign Minister Lavrov seemed to be quite hopeful that Hamas was interested at some stage in endorsing or agreeing to the roadmap and also that they were interested in joining the Arab initiative in March of 2002.  What's the U.S. reaction to that?  Do you think that Hamas is indicating that they're showing a softer line and would it be worth the United States opening up a direct sort of channel of communication with Hamas?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I don't think I'd write it quite that way.  I think what I heard Foreign Minister say is that they use the Quartet statement as the basis for their discussions with Hamas and that they need to meet those various demands as outlined in the Quartet statement.  We all know what those are.  I won't bore you with those once again.

He also mentioned to Hamas is possible practical mechanisms:  the recognition of the roadmap, recognition of the Arab League initiative.  It was put forward by then-Crown Prince Abdullah in Beirut.  Hamas didn't commit one way or the other during those meetings.  That's our understanding.  I didn't hear anything different from Foreign Minister Lavrov and I have heard from him before on this matter and he's talking about what the Russians urged Hamas to do and that was what was outlined in the Quartet statement.

QUESTION:  So you didn't perceive that as being a softening --

MR. MCCORMACK:  No.

QUESTION:  -- by Hamas.

MR. MCCORMACK:  No.  Not at all.

QUESTION:  Lavrov mentioned an offer by Hamas apparently to set up some sort of -- to allow some sort of monitoring of the administration of humanitarian need.  Is that something the U.S. would be interested in?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Again, our views with respect to Hamas are known.  It's a terrorist organization.  We are still taking a look at what -- looking at our aid programs right now.  Foreign Minister Lavrov talked about the fact that the Russian Government would continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people through the channels of the UN as well as the World Bank.  And what the Quartet statement says is it encourages all states to look at its assistance programs to the Palestinian people through the prism of whether or not Hamas has met the conditions laid out in the Quartet statement.

QUESTION:  On Hamas, just to clarify what you said.  Are you saying that the Russians suggested to Hamas that they should join the Arab initiative and that they should accept the roadmap?  Because I think we took his comments to say that the Hamas said that they would accept the roadmap and that they would join the Arab initiative.

MR. MCCORMACK:  No.  I think it was part of the discussions that they had in Moscow.  You talk to the Russians about what the exact back and forth was.  But his -- in terms of the discussions with the Secretary, there was -- his readout was there wasn't a commitment one way or the other on Hamas on those two points.

Teri.

QUESTION:  On Russia.

QUESTION:  On Hamas.

QUESTION:  Oh, go ahead.

MR. MCCORMACK:  On Hamas.

QUESTION:  On the $20 million, has it come back yet?  David Welch said $30 million -- that the Palestinian Authority had returned $30 million last week.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Right.

QUESTION:  And there was an additional $20 million outstanding.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'll have to check.  I'm not sure where that stands but I'll check on it.

QUESTION:  And also David Welch said last week that the review would be finished within a couple of days and that was a couple of days ago, so how close are you to finishing the review?  I know you're not going to ballyhoo it, but do have preliminary results or anything more to tell me?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Don't have any preliminary results for you.  I'll check for you and see where they are in terms of the technical work and then where we are in terms of a policy decision.  I expect that this will probably play out over some time.

QUESTION:  While you were away it was said from the podium there will be no grand announcement.  And, you know, -- there are programs, there will be programs.  Are you saying today that there is no decision taken yet on assisting any particular program?  All of them are being considered still?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yeah.  The process --

QUESTION:  The whole process.

MR. MCCORMACK:  The whole process is still underway.  I mean, nothing's done until everything's done, so we're still working on it.

QUESTION:  Okay.  On Russia.  There are calls on Capitol Hill for Russia to be thrown out of the G-8 or at the very least for there to be a boycott of this G-8 meeting in St. Petersburg because of Russia's backsliding on democracy.  And yesterday a new report came out that didn't go that far to recommend this but certainly had some concerns.  And the leaders of this report, Jack Kemp and John Edwards, are calling for a Foreign Ministers G-7 meeting, leaving out Russia, before the G-8 in order to try to broaden the agenda that Russia apparently wants to limit to energy and education and HIV/AIDS.  Is the U.S. in on any kind of foreign ministers meeting like that?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION:  -- not going to talk about that?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'm not aware of -- I saw the news reports but I'm not aware of any move on the part of the U.S. Government to do a G-7 Foreign Ministers meeting.  There's going to be, I think, a G-8 Foreign Ministers preparatory meeting but I think it's with all the members that are going to be there in St. Petersburg.

QUESTION:  Well, do you think the warning is warranted to Russia that it doesn't -- if it doesn't reinforce democracy in the country that it risks being thrown out of the industrialized democracies of the G-8?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, Secretary Rice has talked about this before.  I know that this suggestion has come up previously.  It's come up prior to the issuance of this particular report.  And she made the point, and you can go back and look for yourselves at the entire transcript, she made the point that it was -- we do not think it was fruitful to try to isolate Russia at this point.  That it would be more effective to try to bring them in to the international system through the WTO, through other mechanisms -- participation in the G-8.

Yes, we do have some concerns about the trajectory of -- and some of the occurrences that have happened in Russia regarding democracy.  We've talked about those quite plainly in public.  We've talked about them quite plainly in private with our interlocutors.  President Bush has brought it up with President Putin.  Secretary Rice has talked about it with Foreign Minister Lavrov and we're going to continue to talk about those issues with them.  But we don't think that the shared goal of a Russia on the pathway -- further along the pathway to democracy, a stable prosperous Russia is served by isolating Russia at this point.

QUESTION:  And can you tell -- some of those items that might have come up in the discussion today.  I mean, at the press conference we only talked about Iran and Hamas and WTO.  What did Secretary Rice say to the Foreign Minister about democratic developments in Russia?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, just a little bit about the NGO law.

QUESTION:  Right.

MR. MCCORMACK:  There was a little bit of back and forth on that.  Foreign Minister -- they had some discussions about whether or not the Russian NGO law was comparable to U.S. NGO laws, so there was some discussion about that.  This is a discussion that had previously been had.  I think we pointed out how we thought it was, in fact, different.  The Russian NGO law was, in fact, different than domestic laws here in the United States that govern the operation of NGOs.  So there was some discussion -- about five minutes' worth on that.

QUESTION:  Did she criticize the new NGO law in Russia?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, she reiterated what -- the points that we've made to the Russian Government, you know, our concerns about the now implementation of the law.  Previously we had talked to them about the actual content of the law.  Now it is at the point of being implemented, so we talked about -- a little bit about how the law might be implemented.  Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Rights and Labor Barry Lowenkron was also there at the meeting for that portion of it.  Other issues -- they talked about Georgia, Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia.  Like I said, they talked a little bit about the G-8, Iran, Hamas.

QUESTION:  But the democratic developments -- I remember them listed those, but what else -- did she say anything else about democracy backsliding?

MR. MCCORMACK:  In terms of -- in terms of the meeting today that was really about it.  Now, I do know they had a longer discussion about this over dinner and it was a smaller group of people.  Mr. Hadley, National Security Advisor, was present at dinner last night, along with a couple of others.  So I know at the dinner, they talked more in depth about Iran.  They talked more about these issues, as well at the dinner.  So the discussion about the democracy issues in Russia was today at this meeting fairly limited, but it was much more extensive last night.

QUESTION:  Sean, what about Belarus?  Did they discuss Belarus as well?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Belarus did not come up, no.

QUESTION:  A follow-up?  Did they touch yesterday or today about the Syria-Lebanon issue?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Did the --

QUESTION:  The Syria issue.

QUESTION:  The issue of Syria.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Oh, yeah.  It did come up briefly.  And the Secretary talked about the importance of all members of the international community reinforcing with Syria, as well as Lebanon the importance of complying with all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including 1559, 1595, 1636.

QUESTION:  Is the situation in Belarus not something that would normally come up between the U.S. and Russia?   Right now --

MR. MCCORMACK:  It didn't come up in this -- in the discussion of this afternoon.

QUESTION:  Last night or today.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Last night, I don't know.  Today I know that it did not.

QUESTION:  On the same subject?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Welcome back.  I was told you were going to remain in Islamabad.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Excuse me?

QUESTION:  I was told that you are going to remain Islamabad.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Oh, you want to get rid of me?

QUESTION:  This was told by reliable sources and you are here.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'm glad to be here.

QUESTION:  Since you mentioned that they discussed Kosovo, to which extent they discussed the Kosovo issue since we know there's some difference between U.S. and Russia about the final status?  If you can say something.

MR. MCCORMACK:  But they did talk about the efforts of Mr. Ahtisaari.  They talked about the efforts of the contact group.  I think both sides certainly underline the importance of trying to find a negotiated solution to the matter and I think that was really kind of the sum and substance of the conversation.

QUESTION:  And also, did they discuss about Cyprus, since the UN was in the process --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Didn't come up.

QUESTION:  -- (inaudible) to unify the island

MR. MCCORMACK:  Didn't come up.

QUESTION:  Do you have any details on the meeting in New York today between the North Koreans and the U.S. Delegation on counterfeiting?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I checked before I came out and -- as of when I came out, I don't think that it had ended yet.  I don't have any readout of it for you.  I'm not sure that there's much of a readout to give.  It was more of a briefing.  I think Tom talked about this a little bit yesterday in terms of what the information was that our team was going to be providing to the North Koreans that simply it had to do with the actions the United States took concerning money laundering activities by Banco Delta Asia and how we took those actions under Section 311 of the Patriot Act and that was really the object of the meeting.  I think the -- our team is being led by Kathy Stephens who's the PDAS, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary here in the East Asia Pacific Bureau.  And I would only make clear, once again, that it is our view that the steps that the United States took with respect to the Banco Delta Asia had nothing to do and is completely separate from the six-party talks.

QUESTION:  Well, what time did the talks begin?

MR. MCCORMACK:  It is -- well, it wasn't talks, it was a briefing and it was some time this --

QUESTION:  The presentation.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Sometime this morning, I don't know.  Ten or so?

MR. CASEY:  I actually don't have the start time on that.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible)

MR. MCCORMACK:  I don't know exactly where it was.

QUESTION:  It was away?

MR. MCCORMACK:  It was -- yeah, it was up in New York.  I don't know exactly where.

Yes, anything else on this?  On North Korea?

QUESTION:  Will you come back to us and give us a readout or let us know when --

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'll try to -- what we have and by way of providing information to you on this, I'll try to do it this afternoon.  Anything else on North Korea?  Oh, yes. Back there.  Yes.

QUESTION:  I know you said that it's unrelated to six-party talks, but do you think that North Koreans are going to take it as -- will it influence the North Koreans' return to the six-party talks?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I don't know.  You'll have to ask the North Korean press secretary, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at his daily briefing.  We have encouraged the North Korean Government to return to the six-party talks without precondition at the earliest possible moment.  We are ready to do so and we'll see.

Elise, you had something?

QUESTION:  Did you want to do Iraq?  Iran or Iraq?

QUESTION:  Iran and Iraq.

QUESTION:  Iraq.

MR. MCCORMACK:  We'll come back to you, Samir.

QUESTION:  The U.S. Ambassador Zal Khalilzad in Iraq said today that the U.S.-led invasion had opened up a Pandora's box in terms of sectarian violence and this is in stark contrast to what military leaders in Iraq were saying just a few days ago.  I think it was Casey that painted a much rosier picture, saying that that things are going well.  So what are your reactions to his comments?  It seemed more that he was trying to sound the warning back in Washington, than to say anything --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I think -- I didn't see all of General Casey's remarks, but I think what he was talking about was specifically the Iraqi security force reaction to the recent heightened tensions in the wake of the bombing of the mosque in Samara.  As for Ambassador Khalilzad's comments, I think what he was pointing out was the fact that under the rule of Saddam Hussein, you had a dictator who ruled through oppression and he was a dictator who ruled through setting various communities within Iraq against one another, in pitting them against one another.  And what the Iraqi Government is doing right now, what the Iraqi people are doing is overcoming that history of oppression, that history of pitting various groups within Iraq against one another.  And you are seeing at every point along the way, that the Iraqi people in the face of efforts to drive wedges between the various groups in Iraq, you see them coming together.  It was certainly a tense several days in Iraq in the wake of the bombing of the mosque.  I think we all saw that, but I think what we all saw as well were Iraqi political leaders and religious leaders coming together in the face of those like Zarqawi who want to divide them, who want to encourage and catalyze differences, in violence, between the various groups within Iraq.  So I think that's what Ambassador Khalilzad was talking about in terms of his remarks.

QUESTION:  Well, to follow up, I mean, he said that the potential is there for the violence to turn into a civil war.  I mean, that doesn't really speak to leaders coming together.  I mean, maybe his comments were taken, you know, in small chunks.  And if you had a transcript to release, that would be helpful, but --

MR. MCCORMACK:  You can check Embassy Baghdad.

QUESTION:  I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK:  I haven't seen a full transcript.  So -- it might exist.

QUESTION:  But certainly, it seems to be the bleakest assessment that we've heard from him or any other U.S. official.

MR. MCCORMACK:  No.  I think that what he is pointing out is the fact that there are those who want to create these divisions.  There are those who will attempt through various means, whether it is further attacks against religious sites or other kinds of attacks, will try to drive wedges between the Iraqi people.  But despite what we have seen in the past week or so with the bombing of the mosque in some retribution on the parts of other groups is that the discussion about formation of a Government of National Unity does continue.  I think that we would characterize those discussions as fairly intense and that that is the way -- that is the pathway forward that you are going to, through those political discussions in trying to overcome whatever differences you have, through dialogue and compromise, that you are going to see that as the most important answer to those who want to use violence and division to cause division between the Iraqi people -- among the Iraqi people.

Sue.

QUESTION:  On Sudan, what exactly is --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Oh, Samir still had another -- a last question.

QUESTION:  There was a press report that the British Government will withdraw British troops from Iraq in 2008.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I haven't seen that, Samir.  I'll let them talk about their own decisions with regard to troops.  But I think Foreign Minister Blair has been very clear that he is forthright in his support for the mission in Iraq.

QUESTION:  A follow-up on Iraq too Mr. McCormack.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think we had one on Iraq and then we'll come back to you.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'm interested to see how you connect Iraq.

QUESTION:  Yes, yes.

QUESTION:  What does the U.S. think of the Iraqi Interior Ministry investigating claims that the Italian Government paid a $500 ransom for the release of two Italian aide workers last year to a Muslim and to a mediary?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think that those are questions for the Italian Government to answer. I think that they have previously denied them, but I would put those questions to the Italian Government.

QUESTION:  Can you restate what the U.S. stance is on payments of ransom for hostages?

MR. MCCORMACK:  The U.S. Government position on that?  I don't think that the United States Government is going to make any judgments about what other states might do or not do.  In terms of our own position is that we do everything that we can to see -- working with the Iraqi Government -- to see that American -- those held, those American held, are released safe and sound to their families.

QUESTION:  There's a hostage working group in Baghdad that works towards the release of Americans.  Can you describe what efforts are undertaken to seek the release of other Westerners who may be kidnapped in Baghdad?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, the way this works, and I'm not going to get into the details of what exactly the hostage working group does, is in the case of American citizens, clearly they're deeply involved.  They're really at the center of the action and they work very closely with the Iraqi Government as well as other governments who might have helpful or useful information.  In terms of other foreign nationals, when the U.S. hostage working group can offer assistance and that assistance is accepted, they do engage but we stand ready to help out other governments when they face this difficult situation.  And if there's a request to us then certainly we help them out.

QUESTION:  Sean, do you have any extra concern that the American hostage, Tom Fox, was not shown in this latest video on Al Jazeera?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'll have to check for you, Teri, in terms of that latest video.  I don't have anything for you on that right now.

Yes, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION:  On Iraq.  According to (inaudible), according to the newest issue of Kurdish Life, magazine in New York City, under the title Kirkuk and Mosul (inaudible) report, "Kurdish activities in Kirkuk and Mosul since the U.S. invasion have done nothing to help with that image.  Arab and Turkmen parties have consistently complained that "normalization" committee has shown favoritism to all Kurds and downright hostility towards Arabs and Turkmen.  In fact, Turkmen spokesman (inaudible) said he warned that if the situation is not resolved equitably there will be "an explosion" throughout the entire Middle East.  Also he claimed that "three million Turkmen" have been omitted from the political process because they charging "American desires".  How do you comment on that because it's very interesting.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I guess the only thing I could offer in response to that is it's certainly issues surrounding Kirkuk are very sensitive.  And we understand that.  The Iraqis understand that.  And throughout the process of putting together the TAL and the constitution, the Iraqis have understood that they are going to need to resolve the various issues surrounding Kirkuk.  There are some difficult issues that, as a result of the actions that the regime of Saddam Hussein took, they need to be addressed by a new government and we'll see how it is that they're addressed.  But it's going to be up to the Iraqis to work them out.

QUESTION:  May I go to Turkey for a minute.  Mustafa Kibaroglu, a nuclear proliferation expert at Bilkent University in Ankara in today's Washington Post article called "Energy, Iran Spur Turkey's Revival of Nuclear Plans" says, "I'm not supporting Turkish nuclear energy program anymore because I'm not clear about what their real intention is."  What is the U.S. official position if Turkey wants to acquire nuclear weapons due to Iran?  Turkey failed to build their Akkuyu -- a-k-k-u-y-u -- nuclear plant in the '90s.  But instead, due to international involvement, Mr. McCormack, in the time concern with this (inaudible) be assisted from the U.S. and International Atomic Energy to succeed or do you think they're safer peace purposes but the professor disagrees?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I don't think I have any response to what the professor said.  I think the Turkish Government has made its views clear on this issue.

Yes, Sue.

QUESTION:  On Sudan.  What is Robert Zoellick hoping to come away with after his meeting, especially with NATO and with the Europeans?  Because the UN is wanting air cover which would really help to enforce agreements, especially in Darfur there the UN would like to have a UN-hatted mission and troops on the ground, so --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, there are going to be -- in the note that we're going to be putting out there are some quotes from Deputy Secretary Zoellick that you can use.  But at this point, I'm not going to prejudge what the outcome of his meetings might be.  So we'll try to keep you updated on what it is he actually achieves.

But certainly with respect to NATO, there will be -- he's going to be meeting with the Secretary General, so I think there will be a general discussion about what potential role NATO might play.  But again, there are a number of different pieces that would have to fall in place before that is even considered.  NATO currently plays a role in terms of offering airlift support, getting the AU mission in place into Darfur.  Whether or not there's any additional actions NATO takes, we'll see.

QUESTION:  It would stand to reason that if you're going there asking for assistance from other countries for Darfur, that you would have to offer assistance yourself, possibly with troops on the ground.  So is the United States now looking at how many U.S. troops could possibly help or whether you would just be providing air cover or logistics?

MR. MCCORMACK:  No change in our answer to that question.

QUESTION:  Still premature --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Elise.

QUESTION:  Well, some of us aren't --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Got some staying power here, Charlie.

QUESTION:  I wanted to ask you what role you think the U.S. would have -- would like to see Abbas play in the immediate future?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Regarding what question?

QUESTION:  Regarding Palestinian security, Palestinian governance.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, he's laid out -- right now, Barry, they're in the process of government formation.  President Abbas has -- in retaining his role as president, has certain powers under Palestinian law.  And understand that because of some of the decisions taken by the PLC yesterday there's going to some discussion and debate within the Palestinian Authority about some of those powers.  So we're going to continue to work with President Abbas.  He has expressed some interest in maintaining a strong hand and a strong role with regard to the security forces and we'll see how this plays out.

Right now we have an interim government and in accordance with the Quartet statement we are looking for ways to support that interim government.  When there's a new government, clearly that's a different situation.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Twenty-one people are dead and 62 wounded in three separate bombings in India today in the holy city --

MR. MCCORMACK:  This is Varanasi?

QUESTION:  Yes.  Do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I saw the press reports about that.  And clearly our hearts go out to those who've lost loved ones and we wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured in these bomb blasts.  We don't have any information at this point with respect to who is responsible for these bombing attacks.  I think just based on the press reports, if you take a look at it, it is quite clear that these are acts of terrorism, although at this point I can't tell you who's responsible for these bombings.  So we would, you know, we certainly condemn these acts.  At this point I don't have any information that any American citizens were affected by this, but again, we're still in the early moments of the aftermath of these bombings.

QUESTION:  On the India-U.S. deal on nuclear energy, but more on the Pakistani side, the President kind of made clear when he went over there that a similar deal in Pakistan wasn't in the cards for now.  Do you sense any backlash from the Pakistanis?  Do you think that this is going to hurt the relationship with the Pakistan in any way; that they're not worthy of such a deal?

MR. MCCORMACK:  No.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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