State Department Briefing, August 29
29 August 2005
North Korea/Six-Party Talks, Russia, Iraq, Venezuela, Kosovo, Egypt
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack briefed the press August 29.
Following is the transcript from the State Department briefing:
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Monday, August 29, 2005
12:10 p.m. EDT
Briefer: Sean McCormack, Spokesman
-- Six-Party Talks/Delay of Talks/Ambassador Hill Travel to the Area/U.S. Prepared for Talks/Appointment of Lefkowitz/Annual Defense Exercises Between the U.S. and South Korea/Denuclearized Peninsula/Possible Return to Talks Week of September 12
-- Senator Lugar and Obama Delayed Leaving Russia/Ability of Aircraft to Leave Airport/Foreign Ministry Apology
-- Senator Hagel Delayed Leaving Because of Flight Clearances
-- Constitution Drafting Process Completed/Political Process Continues/Responsibility of Iraqis/Modification of Deadlines/Modification of Transitional Administrative Law/Assembly Speaker Says Requirements of Law Have Been Met/Sunni Support for the Constitution/No Political Accommodation for Insurgency or Terrorists
-- No Meetings Scheduled between President Bush and President Chavez/Call for Venezuela to Play Positive Role in Hemisphere/Embassy Diplomats Continue to Meet/No Meetings Scheduled between Secretary Rice and President Chavez/Secretary Rice's Meeting with Foreign Minister at OAS Summit in Florida
-- Luis Posada Carriles Asylum Hearing/Extradition Request
-- Pat Robertson's Assassination Comments/Legality of Extradition to Venezuela
-- Fighting Drug Trafficking
-- Killing of Ethnic Serbs/Condolences to Families/UN Mission and Local Authorities Begin Investigation
-- Presidential Election/Encouraging Government to Allow All Candidates Access to the Media/Need for Election Monitors
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
MONDAY, AUGUST 29, 2005
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
12:10 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I don't have any opening statements, so I'd be happy to jump into questions.
QUESTION: Let's try North Korea. Why are the talks -- resumptions delayed for two weeks?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've seen some statements from the North Koreans saying that they would be prepared to come back the week of September 12th. All the parties at the end of last session of talks made a commitment to return, originally that commitment was the week of August 29th. The Chinese Government is working bilaterally with the North Koreans as well as other states to set a date when all -- a convenient date when all parties could come back. We're prepared to come back on the week of September 12th. Ambassador Hill will be traveling there then if that is in fact the week the talks resume.
QUESTION: So it sounds like you're very comfortable with a two-week delay. Are you shrugging off their two complaints?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of it -- let me ask you which two complaints just so -- I think I know what that is? If you can specify --
QUESTION: Well, the appointment of an official to pressure them on human rights and the exercises -- the military exercises, which are routine. If they're citing those, they're really jumping on the Lefkowitz appointment as being a thumb in the eye and a violation of an agreement that such things would not be done.
MR. MCCORMACK: A couple of things. Certainly we're prepared to go back at an early date. We're prepared to engage in six-party talks in a constructive manner. We hope that all of the other parties, including North Korea, come back to the table and resume the businesslike atmosphere that they demonstrated during the most recent session of the talks.
As for the appointment of Mr. Lefkowitz, this is something that was mandated by U.S. law. It is also something that the President and Secretary Rice wholeheartedly believe in. We have spoken out very clearly on the issue of human rights around the world. We put out an annual human rights report in which we speak very clearly about these issues. All of that said, the appointment of Mr. Lefkowitz doesn't have anything to do with the six-party talks. The focus of the six-party talks is to achieve a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. There are other issues certainly that can be and have been raised in the context of those six-party talks, but right now everybody's focus is on achieving a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
As for the military exercise that you refer to, this is an annual defensive exercise involving the U.S. and South Korean forces that poses no threat to the North. And as for the details of this particular exercise, as well as a discussion of past exercises, I think the Department of Defense is in the best position to answer those questions for you Barry.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: So to answer the original question, do you think that they don't understand the reasons behind the appointment and the reasons for the exercises or do you think they're delaying?
MR. MCCORMACK: You'd have to ask the North Korean Government what their views of the appointment are --
QUESTION: No. I'm asking --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- and whether or not --
QUESTION: -- how you read it.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. We can only take their statements at face value. The decision-making process in North Korea is one in which we don't necessarily have the greatest degree of clarity on. We encourage all the parties to return back to the six-party talks at the earliest possible date. We're ready -- if the date is the week of September 12th, then we're ready to go back the week of September 12th.
QUESTION: Is it accurate that you were informed of their wish to delay this through the New York channel?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to check on that. I haven't checked on the New York channel today.
QUESTION: The meetings we already know about, I believe that what is being reported is that they let the United States know at this last meeting, which you did tell us about, and that the U.S. -- or I guess Mr. DeTrani said that the U.S. understands why they are not willing to come back during the military exercises.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you on that, Teri.
QUESTION: Can I ask you -- the statement of principles? It's been a few days since we've touched on that. Is it shaping up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly -- the reason for this recess in this round of the talks was so that countries could go back to capitals, assess where they are, take a look at the remaining issues that are before them and come back prepared to engage in a constructive way on that. So in terms of new text, new language, we are where we were. You know, certainly, we've taken a look at where the negotiations are. We're prepared to go back. And like I said, if it's the week of September 12th, then we're ready.
Yes. Anything else on North Korea? Okay. Peter.
QUESTION: Are you confident that the talks will, indeed, resume September 12th or the week of September 12th or thereabouts or are you just waiting to see what North Korea comes back?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, the Chinese are working on the specific date. Everybody made a commitment at the end of the last session that they were going to come back to the talks. Originally, it was the week of August 29th. Now we understand the North Koreans would want to come back the week of September 12th. They said that they're ready to come back the week of September 12th. The Chinese are checking to see what dates are convenient for all the parties. Everything --we've seen no indication that anybody is backing off their commitment to return to the talks.
Anything else on North Korea? Okay, Teri.
QUESTION: On that last phrase. What do you think this is an indication of, then?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we can only take these statements at face value. As I answered in response to Charlie's question, as for what --
QUESTION: What does face value tell you?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they said that they had some problems with the appointment of Mr. Lefkowitz as well as this military exercise. I can't offer any further explanation beyond that.
QUESTION: Over the weekend, there's been a detainment of three senators in Russia, Senators Lugar, Hagel and Obama, and there's been a long-established demilitarization program called NTI that both Senator Lugar and ex-Senator Nunn have been running. Why the detainment, and if you've looked into that at all?
QUESTION: Well, thanks for bringing that up, Joel. First of all, there are two separate issues here. There is Senator Lugar and Senator Obama were on one CODEL visit, then Senator Hagel was on another. So there were two separate incidents and the reason for the delays are separate.
With respect to Senator Hagel, I think it involved a question of flight clearances and just it was, you know, kind of the wheels of bureaucracy weren't turning as quickly as they might.
With respect to Senators Lugar and Obama, they were delayed departing Perm by about three hours yesterday by local authorities. This was something that Embassy Moscow worked very closely with the Russian Foreign Ministry to resolve. The issue was resolved in a matter -- in the course of three hours and the flight departed without any further incident. I think that there was a misunderstanding of the local authorities about the ability of this kind of aircraft to depart directly from Perm to an overseas destination.
As far as we can tell, the matter is resolved. The Russian Foreign Ministry has apologized for the incident and the inconvenience that was caused to Senators Lugar and Obama as well as the officials traveling with them.
QUESTION: A follow-up? It was reported that they had been detained while on tour of some of the weapons sites for inspections. How do you explain this?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think that -- I don't see any connection between what they were doing -- their mission in Perm -- and the delay in their departing. Like I said, I think it had to do with the misunderstanding on the part of local officials in Perm of the understandings that we have with Russian authorities about this kind of aircraft and its ability to depart from locations in Russia for overseas destinations. It was a bureaucratic misunderstanding, I think, on the Russian side.
QUESTION: According to Washington Post, they inspected military sites illegally. They did. That's what --
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't -- I didn't take away the same thing from the article. I think for a description on the work that Senator Lugar and Senator Obama were doing there, I would refer you to their offices for a full description of what they saw while they were on the ground doing their mission.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Do you have another one?
QUESTION: On Iraq.
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on Russia? On the Lugar or Obama question? Okay.
QUESTION: On Iraq. Your policy for Iraqis for federated or confederated Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: Our policy -- well, this is a question --
QUESTION: You say "unified." Unified by --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- federated or confederated?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, the relationship of the different parts of Iraq to the center, the issue of federalism, is one that is for the Iraqis to answer. We've gone over this ground quite a bit over the past couple of weeks and the Iraqis have completed the constitution drafting process. This question is addressed in the constitution. The specific issue of whether to create other federal areas within Iraq is one that is in this draft constitution pushed to the elected National Assembly. Once the constitution is passed and once that assembly is elected, it is given to them to deal with as a matter of law.
We think that the political process continues, as you saw over the weekend. There is a draft constitution that the Iraqi people will have an opportunity to vote on on October 15th and that is in accordance with the Transitional Administrative Law. It will now be up to the Iraqi people individually to take a look at this constitution and make up their own minds about which way they vote. It will also, I expect, in the run-up to this vote, I expect that you will see various political parties, various political groupings speaking out in public about their views of the constitution. They are going to go out and have to win the votes for their point of view. And that is part of the political process that is unfolding in Iraq right now, but I think that the completion of the constitution drafting process, as you heard from the President and the Secretary yesterday, is a step forward in that process.
QUESTION: I'm asking that because there is a paragraph in the draft constitution allowing power to devolve from the central government to autonomous regions in the north, called Kurdistan, and in the south called Shias, which means clearly confederation or, unfortunately, partition? What is your opinion?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I think I addressed the question.
QUESTION: Are you comfortable with the draft constitution as it is, even though the Sunnis seem to be out of the wagon?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that there -- as you heard from the President yesterday and also from different people in Iraq, different Iraqis, political figures in Iraq, commenting on the constitution and the constitutional process. There are some Sunnis who oppose the constitution. There are some Shia, there are some Kurds, who oppose the constitution. There are also some Sunnis who support the constitution as well as Shia and Kurds. And as for an assessment of the constitution, that is ultimately up to the Iraqi people to determine whether this is the right constitution for their country that will allow them to build a more prosperous and free future.
The various -- if you look down in -- look at the constitution, the draft constitution, I think if you look in some of the various areas that have been discussed in the media in terms of women's right, in terms of the judiciary, in terms of issues of federalism, this is really a quite far-reaching constitution, especially if you look out in the region and, frankly, against international standards.
The Afghan -- I'll just give you one example. The Afghan constitution, which was widely praised in editorial pages and around the world as quite a progressive document with respect to women's rights and other rights. I think that if you look at the Iraqi constitution, I think, to say at least, it compares quite favorably with that constitution. But ultimately, it is going to be up to the Iraqi people to decide for themselves what they think about this constitution and whether it is the appropriate document for their country.
QUESTION: I have a question just on some of the legalities of what's going on because it seems at some point there that some of the procedures and the deadlines have not quite been respected and there's been no at least official extension of the deadline. The reason I'm asking is that there is a provision in this constitution that says if three provinces, two-thirds of the majority vote against it, then the constitution is scrapped.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.
QUESTION: It doesn't pass. There's dissolution.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: There's also a provision that says that the assembly plus the unanimity of the presidency can modify this TAL. Would the United States abide by a modification of the TAL to remove the possibility of those three provinces scrapping the constitution?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, that's a situation with which we are not faced at the moment. But in terms of -- and my understanding of the TAL -- is that with respect to the submission of the constitution that the article governing that -- I think it was Article 61 -- was fulfilled seven days after the original deadline. The seven-day extension was granted according to a unanimous vote of the Transitional National Assembly, so there was in that case the ability of the assembly to extend the deadline, in essence modify the deadline that had been put forth in the TAL for submitting a draft constitution. So at least in that case there was the ability of the National Assembly to modify the TAL.
Speaking to this other provision, I don't know. I don't have that information. I'm not an expert in the TAL. But the deadline for submitting the constitution was, in fact, met. The other deadlines that you were talking about were, I guess, self-imposed political deadlines that they set for themselves in order to complete the work on it.
QUESTION: I guess if I can maybe rephrase my question because it came out a bit legalistic. But I think it's a political question too, which is that there is a mechanism within the TAL for basically just scrapping anything that's in the TAL; you can change it with a vote of parliament, plus the unanimity of the presidency. Would the United States, if there becomes a political crunch and those three provinces hold it up, would the United States abide by just simply modifying the TAL?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as for the legality of it, which is an important question, I can't speak to that. I spoke to the one instance in which we saw it demonstrated that they were able to do this. Whether or not that provision applies to other requirements of the TAL, for instance, changing the two-thirds majority in the three provinces, I can't speak to. I don't -- politically, again, that is going to, as it was before, that is a decision for the Iraqis to take. But you first have to answer the question of whether or not legally it is allowed, and that's a question that I can't answer for you. I'm not an expert in the TAL.
QUESTION: One last question, if you can, just on this. Are you satisfied up until now that all the legalities have been satisfied and the procedure has -- because there are people in Iraq who are saying that the -- there's been no vote of the assembly, there was no vote to extend the deadline, that all this has been done illegally. Are you confident, as the United States, that it all has been done within a legal framework?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that if you look -- I think the authorities on this are the Iraqis. And the assembly speaker has again said that according to Article 61, the deadline for submitting a draft constitution has been met. And in terms of whether or not any action on the part of the parliament was required, a vote or some other affirmative action was required by the assembly, once the draft constitution was submitted, my understanding is that the TAL was silent on that matter and that that is a matter for the assembly to consider what affirmative action, if any, that it wanted to take. So again, the Iraqis are the experts on their own law. And I think that if you look at authoritative sources like the assembly speaker, that he has spoken that in fact the requirements of the law have been met.
QUESTION: You said that some Sunni, Shia and Kurds do not support the draft constitution.
MR. MCCORMACK: I said I did expect their --
QUESTION: You expect that there are --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- I'm sure that there are some.
QUESTION: Exactly. And that you expected also that there would be some Shia, Kurds and Sunni who support it. I guess the question that I'm interested in hearing, whether or not the Secretary has gotten any sense from Ambassador Khalilzad that enough Sunni support this constitution such that they would be able to eventually diminish the strength of the insurgency.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that in terms of the question of Sunni support for the constitution, you know, our sense, our shared sense here and after talking to Ambassador Khalilzad, as well as others in our embassy in Baghdad is that, you know, we'll see. We are only at the very beginning of the ability of the Iraqi people, all the Iraqi people, including the Sunni population, to take a look at the constitution, read it for themselves and decide for themselves how they're going to vote on October 15th.
So in answer to the question of is there -- you know, what's the level of Sunni support, I think we'll see. There are a group of people that were on the constitution drafting committee, largely not elected, who have expressed their opinions. There are some members, for instance, the speaker of the assembly, who has come out in support of a constitution. He said that -- it's not an exact quote -- that it is not a perfect document. The Sunnis didn't get everything that they wanted, but I think the -- probably get a similar quote from virtually any other leader of a political group in Iraq at this point. And that's the nature of compromise in the political system that we're all familiar with.
And so there is an ongoing political process. I expect that there's going to be a healthy debate in Iraq regarding this constitution in which people of opposing points of view or different points of view will make their case -- make their case in a variety of different ways. And we'll see how well they have made their case on October 15th or at least when all the votes are counted.
And as for the insurgency, I think that, again, you -- as we've said before, you fight an insurgency on a variety of different fronts. You also have to look at the fact of what kind of various -- the various reasons why there is an insurgency. And I think that there's debate as to what goes in and feeds the insurgency. But separate out the group, you know, the group of terrorists and parts of the insurgency for which there will never be any political accommodation. That has to be addressed as a military and intelligence matter and we're working with the Iraqis, the multinational forces are working with the Iraqis on that front.
As for other elements of it, certainly this constitution provides or the political process of which the constitution is a part, provides a way forward for, you know, for all Sunnis, for all Iraqis to work out whatever differences they may have with other groups in Iraq or about the path forward for Iraq in a peaceful context. And certainly we all hope that, you know, all Iraqis will take a look at this constitution and take advantage of the foundation that this constitution could provide as a way of building a democratic system in which any differences that they might have can be resolved in a peaceful way.
You've been waiting very patiently. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Another subject, Venezuela. Mr. McCormack, the Venezuelan Vice President on the weekend say that it's up to the U.S. Government a meeting between President Bush and President Chavez. He put the ball in your (inaudible). What will be your answer? A meeting between both presidents, Mr. Bush and Mr. Chavez. He said it is up to the U.S. Government -- a meeting. It is up to you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well --
QUESTION: What will be your answer?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are no meetings scheduled at this point. And we've -- you know, we've talked about our agenda for the hemisphere and the fact that, you know, we call upon Venezuela to play a positive role in the hemisphere with its neighbors. And beyond that, I don't think I have anything to add.
QUESTION: Will you say that the dialogue between both countries is almost broken or there is still ongoing or --
MR. MCCORMACK: No. There are certainly difficulties in it -- areas of disagreement. We have an active Embassy in Caracas and our diplomats in Caracas continue to meet with Venezuelans in civil society and private life, as well as government officials. And we certainly encourage cooperation between the people of Venezuela and the Government of Venezuela, not only with the United States, but with their partners in the region to advance the prosperity of the region, to fight the production and traffic of drugs and to promote democracy. And part of that is having neighborly relations that are transparent and respect the sovereignty of the other country.
QUESTION: What needs to be done for a meeting between both presidents, from the Venezuelan side, I mean?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Again, there's no -- we'll keep you updated on any meetings that are scheduled.
QUESTION: Sean, as a follow-up, and I know you don't speak for the White House so I'll couch it as a possible encounter with the Secretary of State. Is President Chavez in the same basket as Castro or the leader of Iran or something, where you would try and avoid a meeting at the UN? Has this happened in the past or is he not as much of a pariah?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, I don't know if President Chavez is going to be attending the General Assembly, but to my knowledge there are no meetings scheduled between the Secretary and President Chavez.
I would note, though, that at the OAS summit when we were down in Florida just a couple of months ago to visit, the Secretary went over and made a point of talking to the Venezuelan Foreign Minister as well. So there is contact with the Venezuelan Government and, you know, when -- certainly at appropriate times, we're not shy about having that contact. But at the current time, I'm not aware of any meetings scheduled.
Yes, back here.
QUESTION: Sean, there was an attack on ethnic Serbs in Kosovo over the weekend and it has the authorities in Serbia proper saying that this is evidence that not enough progress has been made on those standards to justify having, you know, talks on the final status of Kosovo. I wonder if you have a reaction to the attack and also this sentiment being expressed in Belgrade.
MR. MCCORMACK: We were outraged to learn of the murder of two Kosovo Serbs and we extend our condolences to the families of the victims and the communities in which they lived. We urge all residents of Kosovo to remain calm and to assist the police so that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
And on the second point, we understand that the UN Mission in Kosovo and local authorities have just begun the investigation. They have not yet determined a motive. Regardless of the crimes' motivation, Kosovo's leaders must continue to explore ways to improve freedom of movement in Kosovo and make Kosovo's most vulnerable communities feel secure. The capability of Kosovo's institutions to solve this kind of murder and prevent its recurrence will be a critical test of Kosovo's ability to govern itself.
QUESTION: Going back to a Venezuela-related question, there's an immigration hearing for Luis Posada Carriles today in El Paso to determine whether he should be deported, given asylum or deported to Venezuela. Given relations with Venezuela as they are now, would the United States permit him to be deported?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a couple questions in there. First of all, there is, as I understand it, there is an asylum hearing request, and that's -- as a matter of pending immigration, that's something that we don't comment on. And the Department of Homeland Security, if they have a comment, would be the ones to make it.
As for an extradition request, that is -- again, that's a separate channel. And we have received a formal extradition request from the Government of Venezuela which we are now reviewing.
QUESTION: When was that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have an exact -- I don't have an exact date. Well, there have been a couple stages in that process where they have done a couple of submissions of documents. One of them was --
QUESTION: Because it wasn't complete the first time?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, exactly. So they've gone through -- they've made the formal extradition request and we're taking a look at it right now.
QUESTION: And as far as you can tell now, this one is complete and does meet all the standards that the U.S. requires?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're taking a look at it right now.
QUESTION: Sean, on Venezuela, there's a wire report out of Caracas saying that President Chavez has said that his government would take legal action against Pat Robertson and potentially seek his extradition regarding his comments last week. Is this too new for you to respond to?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, first of all, I hadn't seen that report, but I think that's probably of questionable legal foundation. But again, I haven't seen exactly the basis for his comments.
We talked about what Mr. Robertson said and we made our views clear known, I think the day that he said it, and I don't have anything to add to that.
QUESTION: The Venezuelan Government just felt that there should have been a stronger rebuke from the podium to Pat Robertson's call to assassinate the sitting head of another country.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, I think first of all, Mr. Robertson has addressed that matter, exactly what it is that he meant. And as for statements from the podium, I don't have anything further to add to what I've said in the past on the matter.
QUESTION: I have a question about a lawsuit which has been filed -- it was filed years ago against the PLO and the PA -- which judged -- it awarded a lot of money to the plaintiffs. And I understand that the Palestinians have actually been concerned about this lawsuit and have asked Secretary Rice, either verbally or in a letter format, for guidance or assistance in responding to that lawsuit. And I was wondering if you could find out if that's true, number one. And --
MR. MCCORMACK: You'd probably have to -- I'm not familiar with the issue. You'd have to get more information on exactly, you know, what lawsuit and what the circumstances were. Once we have that, we'll try to get you an answer and then we could share with everybody.
QUESTION: And the other follow-up to that would be whether -- some congressmen have suggested that maybe the U.S. Government should not be giving aid to an entity that owes on a lawsuit to an American citizen, and I wanted to know --
MR. MCCORMACK: Before I jump into that, I'd have to be more familiar with the antecedent question and then get an answer to that, and then maybe we could try to address the second part of what you just asked.
QUESTION: Getting back to Venezuela and narcotics. Given the record seizures in the waters between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, over eight tons of cocaine in the last two weeks, and the rumors that traffickers are taking advantage of this period of political tension between the two governments, I was wondering, first, if you could update me on the progress of diplomatic efforts to increase cooperation between the Venezuelan Government and the U.S. Government with regards to DEA agents' aviation sharing.
And second, I know the certification decision is coming soon, and given that Trinidad and Tobago has such a major drug transshipment rate, I was wondering if the security and stability of Trinidad and the greater Caribbean region will be taken into account with any certification decisions with regards to Venezuela.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, with regard -- specifically with regard to the cooperation between DEA and Venezuela and any other country, I'd have to refer you to the DEA. You cite some statistics. They would be in the best position to comment on those as well.
As a general statement, certainly we encourage cooperation between the United States and all the governments of the region in fighting the production and trafficking and transshipment of illegal drugs. And we spend quite a bit of time, money and effort in that regard. We also, ourselves, as the President has said, look at the demand side of the issue. And the President, on the domestic side, and this Administration has taken a number of steps to address those issues as well.
QUESTION: On the certification decision?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have anything for you on that.
Peter, do you have anything on Venezuela?
MR. MCCORMACK: A different subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, good. You get the next question, then.
QUESTION: Egypt. There's going to be a presidential election in nine days. We're in full campaign. I was wondering if you could give us the United States' impression of whether or not this is unfolding as a free and fair election, and specifically on two points: one is that the critics are saying that the President is monopolizing the media, getting all the media coverage, and there's none available to his opponents. And second, that there's considerable concern over the fact there will not be independent monitors at the polls.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, I'm going to defer on any sort of final assessment of the, not only election day but the run-up to the election -- run-up to election day. As you've heard -- as you rightly mention -- one of our -- one of the issues that we raise in Egypt as well as other countries around the world is the fact that it's not just election day that matters, it's the run-up to the election and then, post election day, the counting of ballots and the announcement of electoral results.
I think you have seen other presidential candidates with access to the media. We have -- we encourage the Egyptian Government to make available or to ensure that candidates do have equitable access to media so that they can talk to the Egyptian people about their vision for Egypt's future.
So again, any sort of final assessment or sort of midterm assessments, I'm not going to do any sort of midterm assessments or play-by-plays on this. What we'll do is we'll take a look at the entire -- we'll take a look at the entire run-up to the election, the election day and the post-election period and we'll have some comment at that point.
QUESTION: You're not going to say anything about abuses that occur in the run-up to the election?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we will try to comment on specific matters for you. But as a matter of doing an assessment of where we stand now, we've said that we encourage the Egyptian Government to make available to -- or ensure, equitable access to media and that the run-up to the election period is one in which other presidential candidates can speak directly to the Egyptian people, whether that's through the media or in person.
As for the issue of election monitors, we urge the Egyptian Government to allow in election monitors, election observers. This is something we ourselves have done in our last presidential election. Other countries around the world have had election observers, election monitors. This is, you know, not a comment on any particular government or the state of their democracy. It is something that is commonly done. It certainly allows the world to get an independent picture of the electoral process and any issues that might arise during the electoral process. This is something that we encourage around the world and we urge the Egyptian Government to agree to let in election observers.
QUESTION: Sean, a follow-up. You've made your position clear and they said, "no." Do you have a reaction to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: We continue to urge the Egyptian Government to do so.
QUESTION: Just for the record, you have routinely in past elections in other countries offered, as you call them, "mid-term assessments," with value judgments about what is going on. And I take it, you're not prepared to do that in the Egyptian case?
MR. MCCORMACK: If we have a particular point that we like to make, as we go through the run-up to the election, we'll be happy to share that with you.
QUESTION: Sean, one more on this. Are you looking at these elections as being in any way democratic?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, let's take a look at the entire electoral process before we have -- you know, make any final pronouncements on the run-up to the process as well as the elections themselves. I would note that this is a step in the right direction, in terms of opening up the Egyptian political system in which you have multiple candidates from different parties participating in this election. So we will take a look at the entire process once it's over with. But the fact that you do have a multi-candidate election is a step in the right direction. It's a positive development.
QUESTION: Can I just ask just -- one of your first answers you did say that some of the opposition candidates were getting access to the media? Is that what you said? Is that your --
MR. MCCORMACK: That's my understanding.
QUESTION: On the same subject, is -- I think that the current title is Principal Deputy
Assistant Secretary -- Liz Cheney in Egypt or has she been there? Is she on a current trip there? And if so --
MR. MCCORMACK: No. Not in Egypt at the moment. I don't believe she's been there recently.
QUESTION: It's not part of her current trip?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. Not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: On Turkey. Mr. McCormack, anything on the trip to Ankara by Assistant Secretary Matt Bryza for mutual action with the Turkish military establishment against the Kurdish organization PKK. It's --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Matt will be pretty pleased to hear that you've promoted him.
QUESTION: Excuse me.
MR. MCCORMACK: He's the Deputy Assistant Secretary, so he'd be very pleased with the promotion you've given him. I don't have a specific readout for you, but I know that he had some good meetings there.
MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Can you take this question to see if there is anything?
MR. MCCORMACK: If there's any -- if there's anything more to share, we'll share it with you.
QUESTION: Apparently, the Government of Nigeria is involved in a telecommunications scandal with raids here in Maryland, and as a key country with respect to the AU, is that somewhat troubling?
And next month there's an upcoming election in Liberia and with any certainty is Charles Taylor on ice and kept out of the meddling and mischief for that upcoming election in Liberia?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as far as any law enforcement actions ongoing in the United States, I'd have to refer you to the appropriate law enforcement authorities, the Department of Justice.
Anything else? Yes.
QUESTION: Can you discuss the state of play of any discussions we may be having with the Government of Eritrea over some recent limitations that they've put on the activities of aid agencies, including USAID?
MR. MCCORMACK: I know that it's been a point of discussion recently between the United States and Eritrea. We will -- let me get back to you on an answer to exactly where those discussions stand.
Okay, thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:50 p.m.)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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