Daily Press Briefing
Gonzalo R. Gallegos, Acting Deputy Spokesman
July 22, 2008
Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative / Next Steps
Issue of Timeline for Withdrawal / SOFA Negotiations
Impact of U.S. Presidential Campaigns
Visit of Syrian Intellectuals, Possibly Officials Travelling as Private Citizens
Possible Meeting with Assistant Secretary Welch
In Washington at the Invitation of the NGO Search for Common Ground
RUSSIA / CUBA
Possible Russian Long Range Bomber Flights to Cuba
Chavez’s Visit to Russia / Arms Sales
Informal Ministerial Level Meeting by All Parties to Six Party Talks Tomorrow
Removal From State Sponsor of Terrorism List
Visit by Iranian Basketball Team to U.S.
Arrest of Radovan Karadzic
12:55 p.m. EDT
QUESTION: A couple of quick – there was one – the Indian Government has survived the no-confidence vote, which bodes well for the U.S.-India civil nuclear deals. Do you have any specific reaction to the vote? And do you think you realistically have any chance of getting the IAEA, NSG, and then, ultimately, congressional approvals secured before this President leaves office?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, as you all saw today, Prime Minister Singh’s government prevailed in a confidence vote by 275 votes to 256. We look forward to continuing to work with the Government of India to move forward the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative. This Initiative represents a unique opportunity to assist India in meeting its growing energy needs, while bolstering the overall nonproliferation regime and strengthening U.S.-India ties.
The next step in this process is for India’s safeguards agreement to be approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors. And we look forward to an August 1st meeting of the board and strongly support approval of the agreement at that time. We continue, obviously, to support this. We’re going to be working with our folks here in the United States to move forward with it, go step by step. But we’ll see how long the calendar gives us and whether or not we’re able to continue forward.
QUESTION: Can I get a follow-up?
MR. GALLEGOS: Sure, Param.
QUESTION: The next step will be at the IAEA meeting on the 25th of July, I think?
MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.
QUESTION: And how is the U.S. moving to get the other countries to basically ratify or to approve the safeguards that have been proposed by India?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, we’re in discussions with IAEA board members. Some are still reviewing the safeguards agreement. My understanding is the Secretary will be given a technical briefing on the agreement in the coming days, and we’ll see how we’ll proceed from there.
QUESTION: Are you confident that the safeguards will be approved by the IAEA?
MR. GALLEGOS: I’m confident in our support for this and that we hope to help them move forward.
QUESTION: And in terms of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, any efforts being made by the U.S. Government to convince the other members of looking into the exception for India?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, obviously, this is something that we’ve been looking at for a long time. We’re going to continue to work towards it. I don’t have any details for you on that.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Now, if the agreement – or if the safeguards agreement is approved by the IAEA, and if the NSG gives India a waiver, after that, the agreement will have to be approved by Congress?
MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.
QUESTION: The congressional calendar looks quite tight.
MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.
QUESTION: Now, how does the Administration plan to take this forward in Congress?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, we’re going to be communicating to the Hill how important we believe this measure is for the United States, how important we believe that this strategic partnership will be for India, for us, and for others concerned with security around the world. I understand that the calendar is tight. We have the situation that we have. But we do look forward to moving forward with this, and we’ll do so as quickly as we can.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. GALLEGOS: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any specific indication from some of the congressional leaders that it may be, in fact, possible to get this done (inaudible)?
MR. GALLEGOS: I haven’t spoken to any of them and I’d refer you to the Hill to see where they are on it and where their attitude is.
QUESTION: A new topic?
MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.
QUESTION: I’d like to talk about Iraq.
MR. GALLEGOS: Okay.
QUESTION: And Senator Obama – during Senator Obama’s trip, Prime Minister Maliki has made some comments – I think it was a little bit more – we saw the full extent of his comments after the briefing yesterday about how Iraq would like to see some kind of timetable for withdrawal. And I was wondering if you’re concerned that this kind of talk affects what you’re trying to do on the ground and could also affect your negotiations with the Iraqis on a Status of Forces Agreement?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, we’ve spoken to the issue of the timetable. The President – the White House issued a statement on Friday where we stand after the President spoke to Prime Minister Maliki about that. Dana said yesterday, you know, we don’t believe in, you know, speaking about the particulars in public as we move towards an understanding of a mutually beneficial position on this.
What we have stressed and continue to stress is the fact that there’s a time horizon that we’re discussing. This is going to ultimately be based on conditions on the ground. Know and understand – and all of you have seen that the Iraqis have shown themselves more and more capable of managing the situation on the ground. We’ve been pulling troops out. And as we have been handing over portions of the country – provinces of the country for them to provide security for. These are all great signs. These are signs that we can move forward and signs that we will move forward.
QUESTION: But the comments made by this Iraqi spokesman were after the phone call with President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki, and kind of after this meeting between Senator Obama and Prime Minister Maliki. And – I mean, do you think that Prime Minister Maliki is trying to get an upper hand on negotiations or play to his domestic constituency? Are you seriously concerned now that the Iraqis are going to be pushing you for a withdrawal, a precipitous withdrawal, than before you’re ready?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, in the past, we haven’t gone into details about the negotiations. I’m not going to start from here today. And ultimately, you know, we’ve stated our position. Our position’s been stated from the White House. It’s been repeated here by Sean, by me. That’s where we are right now.
We’re going to continue working with the Iraqis to come to a conclusion that’s mutually acceptable to sovereign nations, discussing this issue, working together to ensure and provide for a situation where our troops can do the job that they need to do, can move from this purely security posture to continue working with the Iraqis on antiterrorism training, on training of their troops versus a combative force there on the ground. And that’s something that we’re going to continue.
QUESTION: Just one more on this?
MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.
QUESTION: In the last 24 hours, Senator Obama has put out several statements indicating that his discussions with the Iraqis have – you know, they have come to some kind of agreement, if you will, on a timetable. I mean, are you – does it bother this Administration that Senator Obama could appear – that he’s negotiating with the Iraqis while there’s a current sitting Administration that’s advocating a policy of its own?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I think ultimately, what you have here is, you know, Senator Obama’s campaigning for office. We have an Administration that’s here through the end of January. We’re working with the Iraqis. We’re making clear our positions, but – knowing and understanding that we’re dealing with a sovereign nation, and we’re going to continue to work to provide for the most secure situation that we can --
QUESTION: But are those statements --
MR. GALLEGOS: -- and for a secure transition to them.
QUESTION: But are those statements interfering with your policy?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I think ultimately, if you want to talk about that, you should probably go to the White House to ask about that issue. However --
QUESTION: Well, the State Department, I mean, is obviously heavily involved and --
MR. GALLEGOS: Know and understand what you’re saying. We have a political campaign that’s going on. There’s rhetoric about – on both sides, from one candidate and from the other. Our position is that we have a policy, we’re moving forward to enact it, we’re speaking directly to the sovereign Government of Iraq, and we’re going to continue to do that until we come to a solution for this problem. January 21st, the new administration will begin and – let’s see, January 20th, the new administration will begin and from there, they’ll take over. But for now, we’re moving forward.
QUESTION: Have you yet established whether there will be a meeting between Assistant Secretary Welch and the Search for Common Ground Syrian delegation, who the members of that delegation are, whether they include any Syrian officials, and when any such meeting might happen, and if it did, if it would suggest any greater interest on the part of the Administration in the Syrian-Israeli track?
MR. GALLEGOS: No, I think in terms of the Syrian-Israeli track, we’ve been very clear in the past and continue to be so that we’re looking at the Israeli-Palestinian track. We know and understand that others will discuss and have talks. We believe that that’s important and that they should continue.
In terms of this meeting, I spoke yesterday to the fact that Assistant Secretary Welch had been willing to meet with this delegation. He’s traveling right now. He’s in the region. He’ll be returning sometime at the end of the week. His schedule is open. My understanding is that we have received a request from Search for Common Ground for a meeting with some Syrians who are here in the United States under an exchange program through Search for Common Ground in their capacity as private citizens.
My understanding also is that we have advised them that we are willing to hold a meeting with them. Participants on the State Department side, I don’t have yet, and I hope to be able to share that with you soon.
QUESTION: So there is a meeting, but the actual time and --
MR. GALLEGOS: There is a meeting. The time and place is– there is a meeting. I believe the time and place is set and I – unfortunately, I don’t have for you who the participant from the United States will be.
QUESTION: If it weren’t Assistant Secretary Welch, would it be the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary?
MR. GALLEGOS: I will check. It will be at an appropriate level.
QUESTION: And do you know whether – do you know who the members of the Search for Common Ground group would be, and whether they include any Syrian Government officials or advisors?
MR. GALLEGOS: My understanding is that there are three Syrians who have come on this program. In terms of identifying them, I think it probably be best if you discuss that with Search for a Common Ground. I think that participants may or may not want to have that publicly known. I’ll leave that to the NGO to determine or discuss with them.
QUESTION: What do you see --
QUESTION: Can I just --
MR. GALLEGOS: Param, and then we’ll --
QUESTION: What do you see as some of the expected topics in the talks with the Syrians?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I think – Search for Common Ground is conducting the cultural exchange program, which many countries do, almost – it’s a standard operating practice that we have in our missions around the world. We like to, first of all, have Americans go out to those countries so that they can discuss various issues that are important to the bilateral relationship, so that they can – the people in those countries can see America in its context.
The other – the flipside of that exchange program is to bring citizens from foreign countries where we have missions to the United States so that they can engage in cultural programs here, where they can see and understand and gain a better understanding of what Americans are, why we do the things we do, why our policies are the way they are. And in fact, most of these programs entail – some of them entail multi-week programs where the individuals will go not just here to Washington, D.C. or to New York City, but we will send them across the United States so that they gain an appreciation for the full flavor of the United States and what we have to offer, why we think the way we do.
So they will come here to Washington and as part of that, what is usual is that we talk about the policies, the bilateral policies that we have with their country. We try and put it in the context of the experiences that they are going to have or have already had in the United States. And then we have our officials talk to them about the official policy, and try and enlighten them on why the policy is what it is.
In terms of Syria, I think, you know, we have an interest in reaching out the Syrian people. However, we’re going to continue to limit diplomatic engagement, unless the Syrian Government takes concrete actions to end its destabilizing tactics in the region. Specifically – and you’ve heard this before here, but I think it bears repeating -- the international community still awaits a signal that the Syrians are ready to renounce their sponsorship of terrorism, do more to end the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and of weapons into Lebanon, expel the leadership of the Palestinian terrorist groups, and end human rights violations.
So this is something that, first, this group is going to have an opportunity to talk to Americans here in Washington, D.C., at least. I’m not sure of their complete program, but Common – A Search for Common Ground can get that to you. But – and that they will have an opportunity to come in and have an official, U.S. official, discuss with them our bilateral policy and why we believe it’s necessary to have that policy. They go home with a better understanding of what Americans are about and why Americans think the way they think.
QUESTION: Should one read much of anything into this meeting? I mean, the United States has an Embassy in Damascus. I don’t think we have had an ambassador there since the Ambassador Scobey returned. Correct? So you engage with the Syrians through the Embassy and, you know, episodically otherwise. Is there any reason to regard this meeting as anything particularly significant or as a harbinger of any kind of a different --
MR. GALLEGOS: I believe that this meeting is important because it is an opportunity for Syrians, professionals, to come and to better understand the United States. And we’ve relied on this at all levels – high school, college and graduate school, through our Fulbright programs, and then with our various international exchange programs that we have throughout the year. We believe it’s important for people to come here, we believe it’s important for them to talk to Americans in the United States, and we believe it’s important for us to have an opportunity to speak to them about our officials policies --
QUESTION: So are you looking –
MR. GALLEGOS: -- so that’s what we’re looking at.
QUESTION: Are you looking for any more information from them about what the situation is in Syria?
MR. GALLEGOS: No, I’m not. Well –
QUESTION: Are you looking for any more information about these negotiations with Israel through Turkey? I mean --
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I think there’s always a give and a take of Americans being exposed to the Syrians here and having meeting with them, because that’s as important to us, really, as the Syrians having the interaction with us. In terms of this specific group having an agenda other than them coming here and seeing and understanding America better, I don’t have information that we’re going to – this is going to be anything beyond that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that Mr. Daoudi did not come? He was, I think, the most prominent of the group and has apparently stayed behind in Damascus. Are you – do you recall that or do you --
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, obviously, we would like as many individuals to come who are willing and are capable of coming. My understanding is we have three who are here, and we’re looking forward to them participating in their program.
QUESTION: I wanted to --
MR. GALLEGOS: Oh, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: A point on that. It is a U.S. Government-funded program?
MR. GALLEGOS: No. Let me make that clear, that while some of Search for Common Ground’s programs receive funding from the U.S. Government, this program does not, so --
QUESTION: I just want to go back to Iraq, unless there’s any more questions on this topic.
MR. GALLEGOS: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on Elise’s question that she asked earlier about Senator Obama having meetings with Prime Minister Maliki and others in Iraq, and apparently, they’ve come to some sort of agreement or conclusion during their talks. Given that the United States is trying to come up with its own agreements with Iraq at this time, doesn’t this muddle the waters with the efforts you’re trying to make?
MR. GALLEGOS: No. I believe that everybody around the world knows that there are two leading candidates for – to become President of the United States. There is a sitting President of the United States and an Administration that’s working very hard to come to agreement and understanding with the Government of Iraq on the future of our military and of our programs there. So I don’t think there is a question of who is in command --
QUESTION: Well, but --
MR. GALLEGOS: -- who is the President ofthe United States today.
QUESTION: But clearly, after their meeting, he seemed – the Prime Minister came out and, through his spokesman, seemed to make some sort of statement about, you know, based on the talks he had with the Senator. Is he, in some way at least, you know, influencing these talks in a way that, you know, his policies in Iraq seem to differ very differently from what the Administration wants? When you talk about timetables for troop withdrawals, isn’t he in that way at least influencing this in a way that you wouldn’t want to see happen?
MR. GALLEGOS: There is a dialogue that’s going on that we’re looking towards developing this understanding on how we’re going to proceed in Iraq. Our voice is directly with the Iraqi Government. We’re going to continue to do that. They know and understand what our policies are. Our officials who are there working with them are making it clear what we believe would be the best option. We’re going to work with them to find what both sides believe and agree is the best option in the future. So no matter what is going on around this, we are going to continue that direct dialogue between this Administration and the Government of Iraq.
QUESTION: So you don’t find it in any way unhelpful that this is happening?
MR. GALLEGOS: We will continue this dialogue with the Government and the leadership of this country. We’ll continue to speak directly to the leadership of Iraq, and we will move forward from there.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. GALLEGOS: Sure.
QUESTION: This is a – do you have anything more to say on the report out of Russia that it was going to start flying bombers to Cuba?
MR. GALLEGOS: Let me see what I have on that. Okay. We’ve seen these quotes in the press; however, we haven’t seen them officially confirmed by the Russian Government. We continue to work with the Russians on this issue. We have consistently made it clear to them that our proposed deployment of a limited missile defense system in Europe poses no threat to them or to their nuclear deterrent.
QUESTION: Have you sought any clarification from the Russians?
MR. GALLEGOS: We haven’t seen any clarification from --
QUESTION: No, I mean, have you called the Russian Government --
MR. GALLEGOS: I’m not sure if there’s been any direct contact with the Russians.
QUESTION: Can you check?
MR. GALLEGOS: I’ll be happy to check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: What do you mean by, “We continue to work with the Russians on this issue”? Do you mean on the issue of missile defense?
MR. GALLEGOS: No, on the – we continue to work in our meetings with them to come to – provide them with information to come to an understanding of what we are attempting to do here, what we want to do and what we are going to do --
QUESTION: -- on missile defense?
MR. GALLEGOS: -- in terms of missile defense.
QUESTION: Right, okay.
MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.
QUESTION: To sort of follow up on that, we’ve also got Chavez in Moscow, the big arms deal. He’s been, you know, using his usual rhetoric. But are you concerned about this sort of strategic alliance between Venezuela and Russia?
MR. GALLEGOS: You mean in terms of – oh, in terms of the arms sales.
QUESTION: In terms of arms sales and generally kind of --
MR. GALLEGOS: Yeah. Well, we’ve repeatedly communicated concerns to Russia about Chavez’s arms buildup in the past and we’re going to continue to do so. We continue to question, as I said yesterday, whether such acquisitions are in line with Venezuela’s legitimate defense needs. This is an issue that we bring forward, we posed, and we continue to discuss with them.
QUESTION: Are you seeing a worrying trend here that they’re making these alliances with Venezuela and now perhaps Cuba?
MR. GALLEGOS: They are a sovereign nation and they will make alliances as they seem fit.
QUESTION: Just one last thing on this?
MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.
QUESTION: There’s no plans to meet with her North Korean counterpart bilaterally while in --
MR. GALLEGOS: My understanding is no, is that they will meet, I believe – somebody had asked me earlier. My understanding is that there will be an informal gathering of all members of the Six-Party Talks tomorrow, tomorrow after – late afternoon.
QUESTION: At the ministerial level?
MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.
QUESTION: But is it possible that, as in the past, whether it’s the – Secretary Rice or in the previous Secretary Powell that if they’re in the same room that there could be a kind of spontaneous pull-aside or something like that?
MR. GALLEGOS: I don’t have any information on the particulars of that. It would not surprise me that they have a – that they do what is – what diplomats do, which is acknowledge each other and proceed with the discussions at hand. So --
QUESTION: I’m sorry --
QUESTION: But wait a minute. But you’re not ruling – I mean, you’re not ruling it out.
MR. GALLEGOS: I don’t have any information --
QUESTION: I mean, if it happens spontaneously, it happens spontaneously. But you’re not saying that Secretary Rice absolutely would not do it?
MR. GALLEGOS: I don’t have any information that she would.
QUESTION: Do you have any information that she definitely would not?
MR. GALLEGOS: I don’t have any information that she would or would not.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.
QUESTION: Off topic. What can you tell about the Iranian basketball team that’s touring the country?
MR. GALLEGOS: The Iranian basketball team. I actually have something on that. I think Sean spoke to that a little bit earlier, but I’ll be happy to talk about it.
The President called for expanded people-to-people exchanges with Iran, and it’s our hope that such exchanges will increase understanding between the Iranian people and Americans, and provide the Iranian people with a clear and more accurate understanding of American society, culture and democratic values. So we have another cultural exchange here.
Our issues have always been with the Iranian Government, and we’re looking to – however, we continue to reach out where we can with this to the Iranian people. This is an example of that. They’ve been invited by the NBA, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State, to compete against NBA teams and the NBA Development League Ambassadors over the next six days in Utah. So there’s a summer league that they’re going to be participating in before they head off to Beijing.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Iranian professional football team that’s supposed to come here?
MR. GALLEGOS: I don’t have any information on that. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: On Serbia. Mr. Gallegos, anything to say on the arrest of Radovan Karadzic of Serbia?
MR. GALLEGOS: Sure. I believe the White House put something out on that earlier, but I’ll be – let me see; make sure we have something here.
We applaud the Serbian authorities for the arrest of war crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic. Karadzic invaded – excuse me, Karadzic evaded capture for over a decade. His capture is a welcome sign of the new Serbian Government’s commitment to fully cooperate with the ICTY and to move toward a Euro-Atlantic future.
QUESTION: Did you help the Serbian Government of Boris Tadic for the arrest of Radovan Karadzic?
MR. GALLEGOS: Yeah, I don’t have any information on any assistance we might have provided.
QUESTION: And also, did Secretary Rice congratulate the Serbian Government of Boris Tadic for the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, otherwise did the Secretary call the Serbian Foreign Minister or any other Serbian official?
MR. GALLEGOS: I don’t have anything on her making a call to them yesterday or today.
QUESTION: Were you able to get any details on what has to happen before North Korea is removed from the state sponsors of terror list?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I think we view – the President spoke to this issue at the beginning of the 45-day period. My understanding is that – I believe its August 10th is when we come to the end of that. You know, what he stated there is that we’re looking to ensure that there is a verification process that we all know and understand, that the North Koreans are committed to. And this is an element that we – the Secretary has spoken to it recently, an element that we believe is fully necessary before we move forward with the talks. And therefore, you know, right now, that’s what we’re looking for.
QUESTION: So are you looking for a signature from the Secretary or something kind of logistical that has to happen?
MR. GALLEGOS: Yeah, we will continue to watch – I think, August 10th – on that date, we’ll take a look at what has gone on, what the North Koreans have committed to, and a decision will be made.
QUESTION: Absent agreement on a verification regime, that will not go forward, correct?
MR. GALLEGOS: I would say that that is one of the primary issues of concern that we’ll look at, and come October 10, we’ll make an evaluation of what has happened and the decision will – there will be a decision made. That’s my understanding, exactly the end of the 45-day period.
QUESTION: August 10th, you mean?
MR. GALLEGOS: August 10th, yes.
QUESTION: What about the ministers? Will they be looking at proposed verification proposals?
MR. GALLEGOS: My understanding is Chris Hill – we’re about to put out a transcript from Chris, and I think in that transcript he’s going to have some answers for that, and I’ll leave it to his – he had an interview – not an interview, but he had a discussion with some of the journalists who are traveling with him, and I’ll share that with you all as soon as I can.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. GALLEGOS: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:18 p.m.)
Released on July 22, 2008
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