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State Department Briefing, October 24

24 October 2005

Iraq/bombings in Baghdad, Iraq/election update, Syria/Lebanon, Mehlis report, Netherlands/Rice's meeting with Foreign Minister Bot

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack briefed the press October 24.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Monday, October 24 2005
1:10 p.m. EDT

Briefer:  Sean McCormack, Spokesman

IRAQ
-- Bombings in Baghdad Near Palestine Hotel
-- Election Update/Recount of Ballots/Voter Turnout

SYRIA/LEBANON
-- Mehlis Report/Next Steps/Potential UN Security Council Resolution/UN Security Council Discussions/Need for Syria to Cooperate with Investigation/Need for Justice and Accountability

NETHERLANDS
-- Secretary Condoleezza Rice's Meeting with Foreign Minister Bernard Bot/Discussion of Mehlis Report/No Discussion of Nominations for U.S. Ambassador to Netherlands/No Discussion of Judicial Procedures and The Hague

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

MONDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2005
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

(1:10 p.m. EDT)

MR. MCCORMACK:  Good afternoon.  I don't have any opening statements so I would be pleased to jump right into your questions.

Barry.

QUESTION:  Whatever you have on the events in Baghdad, the bombings?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, there -- as you have reported, there were some explosions in Baghdad.  I think I would refer you to our Embassy there, as well as our -- the multinational forces in Iraq for more details concerning those explosions.  We understand there were some explosions around the Palestine Hotel, which is home to, among others, journalists as well as contractors working in Iraq.

As of this time, we don't have any reports of any deaths to American citizens or any injuries to American citizens, but I caution that this is a developing situation so, you know, those -- that may change.  I don't have any indication at this point that it will change, but certainly we hold open that possibility, given the people who usually reside at that hotel.

QUESTION:  Does the U.S. know enough about the casualties outside the hotel to preclude any Americans possibly going out for a cup of coffee or lunch?

MR. MCCORMACK:  At this point, Barry, I don't want to give any sort of indications that there were any Americans involved because we just don't have that information.  Certainly, if we do, if that information those facts do come to us, we'll try to keep you updated.

QUESTION:  I know it's a hard thing to discern, to determine, but does the U.S. have any idea who did it?

MR. MCCORMACK:  At this point, Barry, we don't.  We don't.

Yes.

QUESTION:  There are already two provinces that rejected the constitution.  Do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I think at this point, what we're going to do, as I did last week, we're going to wait for the Iraqi Electoral Commission to come out with final results.  I know that there have been some provisional updates that have come out over the past several days, sort of rolling updates on two fronts:

One, with regard to the results of their, I guess, re-look or recount of some of the ballots that was triggered by their internal procedures that was triggered by, in some provinces, having a vote of 90 percent or more yes or no, regarding the constitution so there are automatic procedures within the IECI guidelines that triggered that re-look.  The IECI has talked about that, I think, to sort of summarize what they have found.  At this point, they have not found any incidents of serious fraud regarding the elections.

On the second front, regarding the final results of the elections, I know, again, they do have some rolling results that are coming out but they have not come out with final results concerning the referendum.  And I think we're going to withhold any sort of final comment on the referendum until the IECI comes out with their final results.

QUESTION:  Yeah, but three provinces are enough to cancel it.

MR. MCCORMACK:  That's -- under the TAL, that's correct.  If three provinces have majorities of more than two-thirds of the voters rejecting the referendum, then, of course, it does fail.  But at this point -- and again, these are provisional results -- my understanding is the IECI has said that there are two provinces that have met that threshold in no votes, rejecting the referendum.  So we're going to wait and see what the final results of the referendum are.  I think that most are encouraged by the fact that, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, you have seen the political base, the political class in Iraq, expand.  You have seen upwards of one million more people voting in this referendum than did in the January elections.  That is certainly encouraging.  It's important that more Iraqis invest in the political process.

One way to measure that is, of course, looking at the number of Iraqis voting.  And so we see a positive trend in terms of the number of Iraqis who are invested in the political process.  Now, of course, you have events like the bombings today in Baghdad, which certainly underline the fact that there are still those in Iraq who are dedicated to thwarting the advancement of the democratic process through the use of violence, and we are going to continue working with the Iraqi Government as well as our partners in the coalition to fight this insurgency on multiple fronts -- political, economic and military.  The Secretary went into great detail concerning our plans and how we're going to execute those plans in her testimony last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Change of subject?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Anything else on this?  Okay.

QUESTION:  France is saying that it wants to wait until the final Mehlis report before it will support sanctions, but the U.S. and France have both said that they're on the same page.  So does that mean that also the U.S. wants to wait until the final report is out before you consider sanctions against Syria?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think where we are right now in terms of the Mehlis report, let me sort of walk you through how I see the next week unfolding.  Tomorrow, Mr. Mehlis is going to be presenting his report to the Security Council.  There will be a discussion at the level of permanent representative, at the level of ambassador, in the Security Council, at which they will start the formal multilateral discussion of Mr. Mehlis' report.

There have already been a number of discussions on a bilateral basis among members of the Security Council.  The Secretary, of course, had an opportunity to discuss this issue at length with Foreign Secretary Straw over the weekend during the visit to Alabama.  After tomorrow, I expect those consultations both up in New York and between capitals to continue.

Right now, what we are discussing and working towards, although a final date has not yet been set, is for a ministerial level meeting of the Security Council a week from today, on the 31st of October.  And at that point, I think the ministers will have an opportunity to discuss what course of action to take.  I think that certainly given the gravity of what we have seen in the Mehlis report, which at the very least includes Syria's non-cooperation with the Mehlis investigation and also includes potential Syrian provision of false information to the Mehlis investigators as well as the report pointing to potential high-level Syrian implication in the assassination of a former prime minister of another state, this is a subject and a report worthy of discussion at the ministerial level.

So that's at this point how we see the next week unfolding.  There's going to be a lot of diplomacy, a lot of discussion about this topic.

QUESTION:  You said a discussion -- Monday?

QUESTION:  You didn't answer my question.  Are France and the U.S. still on the same page or does the U.S. -- at this point, they're saying that they want to wait until the final report.  Does the U.S. -- are you leaning towards waiting until the final report?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, at this point, I think what everybody is discussing is a resolution.  And I think that you have, certainly, you have seen Foreign Secretary Straw talk about a resolution.  I think that that is the way the Security Council acts.  And I think that that is, you know -- that is really the central focus of the discussions now.  Now in terms of what might be included in a potential resolution, again, first we want to have the meeting tomorrow at which you have the ambassadors be able to receive the report in a formal discussion in the Security Council from Mr. Mehlis and then you want to have a discussion about what might be included in a potential resolution that would -- and that discussion would unfold, I would expect, over the coming days.  Now, I'm not going to prejudge what may or may not be a potential resolution.  I think, you know, those will be discussions to be had through diplomatic channels, as I think is appropriate.

QUESTION:  I don't mean (inaudible), but you all have the report already, don't you?

MR. MCCORMACK:  We do.  But we have not had an opportunity, Barry, in a formal sense in the Security Council to have a discussion of it and for Mr. Mehlis to be able to have a give and take with the members of the Security Council.  Yes.  But we do all have the report, yes, and it's quite troubling, I think.

QUESTION:  Follow up onto the timeline.  Do -- would you anticipate the ministerial level meeting which you describe expecting to be a week from today to put a resolution out then?

MR. MCCORMACK:  At this point --

QUESTION:  Or would that be more talking?

MR. MCCORMACK:  At this point, Charlie, I think I'm going to stick with the fact that everybody thinks that certainly a resolution would be appropriate with respect to this report, at least in the initial discussions that we have had among our close allies.  Well, let's see how the diplomacy unfolds over the coming week or so and what action at the ministerial level the ministers decide to take.  I'm not going to prejudge anything at this point, Charlie.

QUESTION:  Do you happen to have anything current on contact or discussion with the Syrians?  They had a news conference Friday, and of course they reject everything in this.  It's all part of U.S. unhappiness with their position on the Iraq war, that the material here is heavily dependent on one person who couldn't be every place that he said to have been, that it's a political document.  There was something else -- that it couldn't stand up in a court of law.

I mean, I don't want to try even to take you to step -- through all their accusations, but have they carried this -- brought this to the U.S. in a formal way?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'm not aware of any formal diplomatic representation to us in particular.  Barry, as you know, our -- we have called back our Ambassador; she has not returned to Damascus.  We do have an embassy there.  I think the Syrian Government needs to focus on cooperation with the UN Security Council Resolution 1595, which of course is the resolution that led to the Mehlis investigation.

The Mehlis report is very troubling and it was -- it outlines and it details, I think in great detail, Syria's non-cooperation with Mr. Mehlis and his investigation and a provision in one instance that I have read in the report of actually providing false information to the investigation.  So these are very serious matters that Syria needs to deal with. They need to address them.  This is a matter of intense interest among the international community.  I think the international community is watching very closely Syria's actions and their ongoing cooperation or lack thereof with Mr. Mehlis' investigation.  Secretary General Annan has extended the mandate for that investigation to December 15th, I believe.

So all of these topics will be a subject of discussion both between capitals but also in the Security Council.

QUESTION:  Well, the extension of the investigation doesn't preclude action, does it, by --

MR. MCCORMACK:  That's correct.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK:  That's correct.  Action in terms of --

QUESTION:  Security Council --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Diplomatic actions.  Yes, yes.

Yes, Peter.

QUESTION:  Sean, just to follow up with two questions on that.  Are you anticipating any action tomorrow from the perm reps, maybe a President's statement, something to respond to this?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think at this point, Peter, that is more a meeting for a formal presentation of the report and a discussion that the Security Council can have with Mr. Mehlis in terms of his report and what he found at this point in his investigations.

QUESTION:  So you don't expect any statement of response to --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Again, I'm not going to -- I'm not going to prejudge what the Council may decide to do at that point, but I expect that it will be more of a discussion.

QUESTION:  Also, the second thing is that the Dutch Foreign Minister, when he came out from the Secretary, said that they did discuss, obviously, this case and there was some discussion of moving some of the proceedings to The Hague, sort of a Lockerbie sort of thing and maybe trying some of the suspects in The Hague.  Is this something that the Secretary is favoring, is looking at?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I think at this point, Peter, what we are concerned with is that the Lebanese people and the international community have confidence that whatever the results and whatever the findings of this report, wherever it may lead, that those responsible for this assassination are held to account.

Now, I think it's too early to talk about what form that may take.  The investigation is still ongoing.  But I think the Lebanese people and the Lebanese Government and the international community can be assured that we as well as others want to see justice be done in this case.  And whatever the forum or format, we believe that the Lebanese people need to have a very heavy input to whatever judicial process there is.  So I think the international community is going to be working with the Lebanese Government in the weeks and months ahead on this very question, but I don't -- at this point I don't think we're going to try to prejudge where those discussions may lead.

QUESTION:  Can you at least confirm that this was discussed between the Secretary and the Dutch Foreign Minister, because that's what he said?  I mean, the possibility of --

MR. MCCORMACK:  What I will say is that they did discuss the issue of, ultimately, those responsible for this act must face justice in some kind of judicial procedure.

QUESTION:  While we're on that meeting, was there any discussion of the nominations by the U.S. for an ambassador to the Netherlands?  There's been, as you know, opposition to him in the Netherlands.

MR. MCCORMACK:  It did not come up.

QUESTION:  It's controversial --

MR. MCCORMACK:  It didn't come up in the portion of the meeting that I was in.  They had some one-on-one time, so it didn't come up in the portion of the meeting I was in.

QUESTION:  Can I just -- I'm sorry -- just follow-up on that transcript?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Sure.

QUESTION:  They discussed some sort of judicial procedure there.  The Dutch Foreign Minister said that he would be -- his country would be amenable to starting some sort of procedures in The Hague.  Did the Secretary at all respond to that at all?

MR. MCCORMACK:  In terms of the part of the meeting that I was in, Peter, they didn't get into that level of detail of the discussion.  Yeah.

Anything else on this topic?  Okay.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 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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