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State Department Briefing, November 22

22 November 2005

Secretary's Meeting with U.S. Governors Traveling to the Middle East, Egypt/Iraq, Iraq, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Israel/Palestinians, Macedonia/Kosovo, European Union, Iran

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack briefed the press November 22.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
2:40 p.m. EST

Briefer:  Sean McCormack, Spokesman

DEPARTMENT
-- Secretary's Meeting with U.S. Governors Traveling to the Middle East

EGYPT/IRAQ
-- Arab League Reported Call for Timetable for U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq
-- Arab League Statement on Terrorism in Iraq/Right to Resistance
-- Insurgency in Iraq/Presence of U.S. Troops and Multinational Force
-- Elections in Egypt/Problems with Election

IRAQ
-- Mortar Attack During Handover of Iraqi Base in Tikrit

UNITED KINGDOM
-- Allegations Regarding a Reported U.S. Plan to Bomb al-Jazeera Offices

VENEZUELA
-- Offer of Discounted Heating Oil to Massachusetts

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
-- Implementation of Gaza Agreement on Border Crossings
-- Gaza Port/Airport

MACEDONIA/KOSOVO
-- Statement Ethnic Albanian Leader
-- Future Status of Kosovo/Role of Martti Ahtisaari
-- Statement of George Soros

EUROPEAN UNION
-- EU Foreign Ministers to Request Information on Alleged CIA Secret Prisons
-- Alleged CIA flights into and out of Greece and Cyprus

IRAN
-- Involvement of China, India, and Russia/EU3 Diplomacy
-- Laptop with Iranian Nuclear Plans/Ongoing Diplomacy
-- Referral to UN Security Council

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2005
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

2:40 p.m. EST

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

Mr. Schweid.

QUESTION:  If you want to make the grassroots happy, you'll tell us about the Secretary's meeting with a bunch of governors.  I don't know if it's even happened yet.

MR. MCCORMACK:  It has not happened yet.

QUESTION:  Well, I think you probably know what's going to happen at it, Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I do, as a matter of fact, and I will have to leave the briefing room at some point and go up to the meeting.  But she's going to be meeting with a bipartisan group of governors who is going to be -- who are going to be traveling to the Middle East and Europe.  The governors that she's going to be seeing are Governor Sebelius of Kansas, Governor Barbour of Mississippi, Governor Perdue of Georgia and Governor Granholm of Michigan.  So I would expect that they're going to be talking about the travels of the governor, you know, basic general foreign policy issues and she'd be ready to answer any questions that they may have.

QUESTION:  Is Iraq on their itinerary?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'd have to refer you to the group for their travel schedule, Barry.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Well, that's it.  (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK:  Okay.  It's an energetic group this afternoon.  It must be the sort of the post -- kind of the post-prandial sort of lull here.

Peter.

QUESTION:  Do you have a reaction to the resolution as adopted by this meeting in Cairo of the Iraqis basically demanding some sort of timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and also basically legitimizing the sense of resistance to the occupation, using the word "resistance," which is pretty loaded?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Okay.  A couple of things and then we'll get into specifically what it is that they did agree to in this communiqué.  I think that, first of all, I think that it is a positive development that you have Iraqis from different parts of the political spectrum, different ethnic groups coming together to talk about ways that they can end violence in Iraq, ways that they can resolve any political differences that they may have through peaceful dialogue.  I think that that is certainly very positive.

I think it's also very positive that the Arab League during -- as part of this meeting -- they were host of it in Cairo made -- the Arab League made a commitment to expand their diplomatic support and contact with Iraq, as well as to expand their financial support for Iraq.  So I think those are two very positive things that came out of this meeting.

Now, as to your questions about the statement, let's go -- as I have seen some reporting on this, let's take a look at exactly what it is that they said and we can talk a little bit about the language.  I have a copy of it and I'd just like to read a couple of things I think that address your point about timetable -- timetable language and then this idea of resistance.  This is from the communiqué:

"The Iraqi people are looking forward to the day in which foreign forces would leave Iraq and to build their military and security forces in order to enjoy peace and stability and get rid of the terrorism that targets Iraqis and Iraqi infrastructure and destroys the national wealth and the state's apparatus."

I think that is perfectly consistent with where the multinational forces and the United States Government are.  You know, as Iraq -- Iraqi forces are more capable and stand up and the institutions get stronger, then of course, the multinational force presence will be reduced.  So I think, again, perfectly consistent with where we are, as the international community, along with the Iraqis.

Getting to this point about resistance:

"Although resistance is a legitimate right for all people, terrorism does not represent legitimate resistance.  Accordingly, we condemn terrorism and acts of violence, killing and kidnapping that target Iraqi citizens, civilian, humanitarian, governmental institutions, national wealth, places of worship and we call for confronting terrorism immediately."

Again, I think that, you know, inasmuch as this statement talks about the right -- the legitimate right to peaceful protest, peaceful expression of differences -- absolutely, the United States has no quarrel with that idea.  And here, they talk about condemnation of terrorism.  You talk about condemnation of violence.  They call -- and they also call upon -- call all to confront terrorism immediately.  Again, something that we are all working for in Iraq.  So Iraqis and the multinational forces, the United States, again, on the same page with respect to confronting violence and confronting terrorism.

So again I don't see any sort of difference there.  If you actually read through all the language -- I've seen some selective quoting in some of the news stories on this and I think it's important to actually take a look at what all of the language that they in fact agree to in this communiqué.

So there -- there are passages, you know, I'll be happy to --

QUESTION:  Can I just follow up, Sean, on two things?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Sure.

QUESTION:  One is that -- does the United States or do you -- I remember during the war, there was a distinction made between acts of terrorism against civilians and attacks on U.S. troops, which were considered then invading forces, now occupying forces.  When we have the notion of resistance, this is a notion that does not necessarily mean peaceful protest.  It also encompasses the idea of potential attacks on what is seen as an occupying force.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I think if you, again, if you look at the language that they actually wrote down here, you know, it leads in with this idea, although resistance is a legitimate right for all people, they go on to say "terrorism does not represent legitimate resistance.  Accordingly, we condemn terrorism and acts of violence."  So again, this encompasses violent acts, you know.  They condemn violent acts.  They condemn terrorism.  Again, something that we're all fighting together with the Iraqis on, so I don't see -- they exclude in terms of this idea of resistance any sort of terrorism or acts of violence, so -- again --

QUESTION:  What about the statement that is encouraging more active resistance to -

MR. MCCORMACK:  Again, I think if people read the statement and take a look at exactly what it is that they're doing, they're coming out against violence.  They're coming out against terrorism and they're calling on people to confront terrorism, so I think that is certainly very positive.

QUESTION:  Okay.  If I can respond to the first part about the timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, I know that one of the State Department people responded, saying that the U.S. troop presence is set by the UN Security Council Resolution, I think, 1546 which was just extended for another year.  But that resolution also says that it can be abrogated at any moment under demand of the Iraqi Government.

MR. MCCORMACK:  That's right.

QUESTION:  So the question is -- as there seems to be at least some concern about the presence of U.S. troops that is being expressed through this resolution and elsewhere, is the United States ready to entertain the idea, with the Iraqis, of negotiating some sort of departure?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, --

QUESTION:  A date or timetable or framework.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yeah, I think again when we take look at -- take a look at the statement -- if you look further down in the statement, it does talk about the UN Security Council resolutions which make it very clear that the multinational forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi Government, and I think that that is a very clear understanding between the Iraqi people and the multinational forces.

In terms of working with the Iraqis to increase their security force capabilities, something that we are working very hard -- very hard to do.  I mean, you've heard the President talk about it.  You've heard Secretary Rice talk about it.  And as those capabilities increase, then our commanders on the ground are going to look at the capabilities of those Iraqi forces and take a look at what multinational forces are needed in order to accomplish the missions of security in Iraq, so there's going to be this sort of shifting balance.  And those decisions are going to be made by the President with the recommendation of his commanders on the ground.  Those commanders on the ground, of course, are going to be working very closely with the Iraqi Government, consulting with them about the capabilities of those Iraqi forces.

So again, what they're talking about here in this statement I think is a perfectly consistent restatement of what we and the Iraqis have said all along -- they, of course, want to take responsibility for their own security, take responsibility for security in their own country. And as they become more capable, then there's less need for multinational forces, but we're all focused on this being conditions based, you know, what are the conditions that will allow multinational forces to reduce their presence in Iraq because the conditions are such that the Iraqi force is more capable of carrying out these missions.

QUESTION:  One more.

QUESTION:  Okay. On this?

QUESTION:  On this, on this.  Just one more.  Well, I guess the question is, though, who makes that decision then?  I guess my bottom line question is if the Iraqis want a timetable, the Iraqis themselves, or they want a firm date for withdrawal, is the United States going to feel obliged and entertain that idea?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, again, the Security Council resolution I think speaks for itself.  You know, again, it's in black and white and I think it speaks for itself.  But the important point is that the Iraqis actually are -- you know, our forces as well as the multinational forces are in Iraq right now at their invitation.  We consult closely with them.  We work closely with them on missions, on planning missions, on the execution of those missions.  And I expect in -- as we move forward, that that consultation is going to continue and that those discussions will be had between our commanders, with commanders from the Iraqi forces, as well as the Iraqi Government.

And you know, our commanders are constantly making decisions about force levels in Iraq.  They make those recommendations to the Secretary of Defense who, you know, of course, gets -- provides that input to the President who is the final -- has the final say about force levels in the United States.  But those decisions are based upon the recommendations of the commanders on the ground working with the Iraqis, which also includes an assessment of the capabilities of the Iraqi forces.

QUESTION:  So just to sum up, there's nothing --

MR. MCCORMACK:  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  There's nothing in the Cairo statement you disagree with?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Again, Charlie, I think that what you have when you read through the statement, you know, take a look at it, I think what you see in terms of these questions that have been brought up today, that the statements in the Cairo communiqué or whatever it is that they're referring to it as, are perfectly consistent with previous Iraqi policy as well as the policy of the United States.

QUESTION:  But my question wasn't about the questions brought up today.  My question was is there anything in the statement you disagree with?

MR. MCCORMACK:  No.  Again, Charlie, I think that on the questions that are before us today, I think that what we have talked about, I think, that those statements are perfectly consistent with what we've said before.

QUESTION:  Another subject?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Okay.  Anything else on this?  Okay.

QUESTION:  Yeah, just that report from the British Daily Mirror and the plot to bomb Al Jazeera, et cetera, et cetera.  Two people are going next week to court in Britain.  I wonder if the State Department had anything to add, other than this dismissal today by the White House and --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Nope.

QUESTION:  Nothing really?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Nope. Nothing, to add.  The White House addressed the issue.  It is a -- you know, this was a report concerning an alleged -- you know, alleged topic of conversation or content of conversation between the President and Prime Minister Blair.  I think the White House has responded to it.  I don't have anything to add.

QUESTION:  Is the Secretary expecting to see the German Foreign Minister next Monday, Tuesday, maybe?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I have to look ahead at her schedule, Barry.  I haven't looked that far ahead.  I mean, she certainly looks forward to working with the new foreign minister.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION:  The President of Venezuela who calls George Bush "Mr. Danger" is giving 12 million gallons of discount heating oil to our residents of Massachusetts, making good on his promise to bring cheap oil to poor Americans because he says the Bush Administration isn't capable of doing that.  What's your reaction?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I've seen these press reports that the Venezuelan Government has offered subsidized heating oil to low income communities in the U.S.  We don't have any further information to -- or further details that could sort of flesh out that proposal.  We understand that the CITGO Corporation is incorporated in the United States and is free to decide, you know, as it wishes how it distributes oil in the United States.  The only restrictions on that are obviously that it must comply with its -- with relevant laws and regulations and that we have yet to see any concrete details about the statement that has come out of Caracas.

QUESTION:  More importantly, just follow up.  What type of message does it send when a foreign government comes in and is helping Americans in a time of need?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, again, we haven't seen -- we've seen the rhetoric, we've seen the press reports, I don't think that we have seen any sort of -- we don't have any further details with regard to these news reports or we haven't seen any concrete steps on the part of CITGO Corporation.  I talked about how they, in a free market, are able to distribute their products as they see fit, according to the applicable laws and regulations.  But you know, beyond that I don't have any more comment on it.

Sophie.

QUESTION:  There is a -- there are going to be new elections in Israel in the beginning of January of 2006 and there are going to be elections in the Palestinian territories.  You are not concerned it can slow the implementation of the agreement the Secretary just reached in Gaza?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, we talked a little bit about this yesterday and I think that there's a lot of hard work that needs to be done in order to implement this agreement.  There are deadlines that are outlined in the agreement.  We've made the agreement publicly available.  I think what this requires really is, at this point, a lot of hard work at the working level.  It is not necessarily -- in order to -- as the agreement is written, I don't -- there's not -- there really aren't at this point any political decisions that need to be taken at sort of the leadership level.  It's there in black and white.  Everybody knows what they agreed to and it's really a matter of just implementing the agreement at this point and which is, you know, going to require work.  It's going to require putting in place scanners at crossing points.  It's going to, you know, so in order to make that happen, you have to purchase the scanners, you have to get them in place, you have get them functioning.

So there's a lot of intensive technical work that needs to be done on this agreement so I think there's -- you know, again, regardless of elections.  Elections happen in democracies all the time, but these sorts of -- at the working level, the work continues and that's what we would expect to happen.  We're going to be right there in helping the two sides move forward and implement the agreement.  We hope General Dayton and his team will be able to get in place soon to -- so we can pick up from where General Ward left off in his mission.  We have a great team on the ground in Consul General Jake Walles as well as Ambassador Jones.  So we are going to be -- we're in contact daily with both sides, the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as with the EU.  They're going to play an important role in implementing this agreement.

QUESTION:  If I can follow up.  But that there are a lot of political issues to decide yet.  The port of Gaza is a political decision.  The airport is a political decision.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, there's -- before you actually get to the point of making any further political decisions, there actually is some -- there's a lot of technical work that is required to do in terms of drawing up plans and making plans, how you actually move forward before you -- those sorts of things actually rise to the political level in order to make decisions.  So I think there's plenty of work to be done in between, you know, now and the period of elections with the Palestinians in January, and then I think in Israel I'm not sure the date's been set but I think it'll be early next year.

So there's plenty of work to do, you know, that's right in front of both of the parties and we are going to be right there with them.  We have rolled up our sleeves on this agreement.  You saw Secretary Rice personally involved in getting -- helping the parties get to this agreement.  So we're committed to helping them make this work and I think that really is going to happen at the working level.  If need be, certainly Secretary Rice will be, you know, ready to lend whatever support she needs to contribute in order to make the agreement happen.  But I think that, you know, there's --

QUESTION:  So you acknowledge the fact that important questions like the port or the airport will be postponed until after the elections?

MR. MCCORMACK:  No, I didn't say that.  I said there is going to be -- there is going to be a lot of technical work that needs to be done.  That technical work needs to be done.  What you're saying is that there's a deliberate attempt to postpone different things.  The work will proceed at the pace at which both sides are able to come together at the working level on these issues.

QUESTION:  Can I just follow up on that?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  The agreement did provide, unless I'm mistaken, to open Rafah on Friday.  Do you -- given all the turbulence that's going on there, are you still confident that that's going to be respected?

MR. MCCORMACK:  We would expect the deadlines -- that deadlines be met.  And we'll do -- we're going to do everything we can to help the parties meet those deadlines.

QUESTION:  Middle East again?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, Middle East is kind of a big place, isn't it?

QUESTION:  Just one regarding the elections in Egypt.  We've seen this time some serious advance of the Muslim Brotherhood Party, 20 percent of the total seats.  They never had it before.  Is this -- are you doing any new assessment toward the Egyptian situation and is this a source of concern maybe for the future?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, first of all, we're only part way through these elections.  There are other rounds of -- other rounds to these elections.  We talked about this a little bit yesterday.  We have from the official results already announced the number of independent candidates that have -- that have won seats and we think that, you know, thus far these elections have unfolded in a way that reflect the will of the Egyptian people.

Now, there have been some problems of violence surrounding this last round and what we have said in the past -- that it is important that the Egyptian Government do everything that it can to provide an atmosphere in which people feel as though they are free to express their will through the ballot box, that candidates are free to campaign, that they can get their message out.

So other than these incidents of violence that we have seen recently, I think this is an election that is unfolding in a way that is reflecting the will of the Egyptian people.  And that is an essential component of any democracy in which that democracy and the institutions of that democracy reflect the desires and the points of view of the people.  And we think that that is an important development in Egypt, that holding these elections in which you have domestic monitors, in which people are able to freely express themselves.

QUESTION:  It's not a source really of concern that the Muslim Brotherhood Party is -- has a religious connotation when it comes to politics and when it comes to dealing with the West?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Again, we have --

QUESTION:  The Egyptian press --

MR. MCCORMACK:  We have seen the results concerning independent candidates winning seats, and I think I answered the other parts of your question.

Yes.

QUESTION:  New subject.  Reports today in the British Daily Mirror suggest British Prime Minister Tony Blair persuaded President Bush not to bomb Al Jazeera headquarters in 2004.  Is there any truth to that?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think the gentleman just in front of you asked that same question.  I didn't have anything to add to what the White House said about it.

QUESTION:  So no comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I don't have anything to add to what the White House said.

Yes.

QUESTION:  On Kosovo, the leader of an ethnic Albanian party in FYROM, Arben Xhaferi, with whom U.S. officials are dealing too, stated once again, "That Kosovo now with parts of southern Serbia and parts of Macedonia should unite with Albania."  Could you please, Mr. McCormack, comment since Secretary Condoleezza Rice told us earlier today in the Franklin Room that now is the time for the Kosovo solution?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Our view with respect to Kosovo is that the future status of Kosovo will be determined in the context of the status of negotiations that will begin soon.  That's our policy statement on the matter.

Yes.  Let's move on.  Libby.

QUESTION:  Do you have anything more -- this morning at the ceremony in Tikrit there was a mortar fired.  Do you have anything more on that?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Don't  -- I don't have anything more.  There was a, I think, security incident there.  I think some of the reporters from news organizations, with presence in Iraq, were there.  Nobody was hurt.  And the ceremony, the handover ceremony proceeded.  I think it is a reminder that there are security challenges in Iraq.  I think we all know about those.  But I don't think that that should obscure the fact that you had -- this was a real-world example of something that is happening more and more in Iraq in which you have the multinational forces -- in this case, U.S. forces -- turning over an operating base to Iraqi forces.  Why is that?  Well, because the Iraqi forces are becoming more capable on a daily basis.  And so this was, I think, an important example of that process moving forward and it's something that's moving forward on a daily basis.

It was, I think, symbolically important, that this was a handover of one of Saddam's former palaces that he built in his hometown.  And now Iraqi forces that truly represent the role of the Iraqi people are now going to have control of that palace as opposed to, you know, Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION:  On Kosovo, you know I was also struck by her...I didn't expect her to say anything about it and I just wondered is she signaling some U.S. involvement or some larger U.S. involvement and if so, my friend's questions I think are pertinent to whether you have some notion of Kosovo's integrity, territorial integrity.  Should it be whipsawed between its neighbors who had designs on it?  Is it a separate country?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, there's -- this is something, you know, Kosovo's future status is going to be something that is going to be a subject of negotiation coming up.  I think Mr. Ahtisaari is going to be deeply involved in that process.  We ourselves are going to appoint somebody that is going to be involved on a full-time basis on questions related to these negotiations.  We haven't named that person yet.  Obviously, Under Secretary Burns who has spent a great deal of his time on the issue will continue to be deeply involved.  Well, you know, he has a few other places in the world that he covers, too.

QUESTION:  So again, this is a question that's going to be a subject of negotiations.  I'm not going to prejudice what the outcome of those negotiations are going to be.  But we are going to be -- continue to be deeply involved in the process.

QUESTION:  On that, in fact, she was signaling a quickening of U.S. involvement?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think what she was signaling, Barry, is a continuing commitment to --

QUESTION:  It takes more than a commitment.

MR. MCCORMACK:  -- to this process.  Well, I think that they're -- Mr. Ahtisaari is going to be, I expect, quite energetic on this question, as are we.

QUESTION:  A follow-up?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yeah.  Yes.

QUESTION:  I have another question on a subject you don't like, the secret prison of CIA in -- with this information.  You -- we were told from this podium several times that this question didn't have any impact on the transatlantic relations, but yesterday the foreign ministers of the EU met in Brussels and they decided to ask for official explanations from Washington.  So don't you think it's starting to weigh on your relationship?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, we -- if there are -- if there are any official requests coming from the leadership of the EU, we'll certainly take a look at those.  To my knowledge, we haven't received any specific requests in that regard.  In the case that we do, we'll certainly take a look at that request.

Peter.

QUESTION:  I just wanted to -- okay.  On Iran, Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Just generally if there's any update in the situation but specifically we understand that actually China, India and Russia were involved in this meeting in London and we were -- this meeting last week on Friday and --

MR. MCCORMACK:  The -- my understanding of that is that the representatives weren't all there.  I think when Under Secretary Burns was in London he met with the EU-3 and I think that he was in contact with some of those -- some of those representatives.  I will try to -- I'll ask Nick specifically who was --

QUESTION:  That everybody was present --

QUESTION:  He said he was talking to them.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yeah, he said he was -- he said he was talking to them.  I'll ask Nick and find out and --

QUESTION:  -- around the table --

QUESTION:  Peter and Larry, you know.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'll ask him who was --

QUESTION:  Please, yes.

MR. MCCORMACK:  -- who was sitting around the table.

QUESTION:  And in a broader sense, do you feel that you are making progress with the Chinese and the Indians and the Russians, who are reluctant to go for referral, to getting them on board?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well --

QUESTION:  And there's one last thing just to address.  The laptop with the reputed plans for Iran to build a spherical instrument that would be linked to a nuclear device, is that being -- is that a key tool?  Is that winning people over now?  Is that becoming something that is become -- having an influence in this debate?

MR. MCCORMACK:  On the last part of your question, inasmuch as there is intelligence information that we share with others involved in this debate, it's not something that I could publicly discuss.  But there is, I think, if you look back over the past couple of years, an accumulation of evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.  I think that countries on the IAEA Board of Governors are united now in the idea that Iran can't be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.  This would be a destabilizing event for the region.  It would be a destabilizing event for the world.  So you have -- you have a -- I think a broadening -- a very broad consensus on that point.

On the first part, the first part of your question about referral, the point right now of our diplomatic activities in support of the EU-3 as well as Russia is not referral.  That is not -- that is not the point of what we're doing.  The point of what we're trying to do in support of the EU-3 and the Russians and what I believe that they would tell you they're trying to accomplish is to get Iran back to the negotiating table, to come to an agreement whereby they are able to -- they are able to develop peaceful nuclear energy, as they say is their right under the NPT, but yet reassure the world that they will not use that development of peaceful nuclear energy in order to obtain a nuclear weapon.

The Russians as well as the EU-3 have laid out the outlines of a proposal that would provide the world those reassurances, and that is that Iran would not have access to those critical nuclear fuel cycle activities, i.e., enrichment or reprocessing, on their territory because -- and we have gotten to this point because Iran, through its behavior, has raised serious questions in the -- among the capitals of the countries on the IAEA Board of Governors about what they're really doing and there's a long list of questions that are unanswered.  And I think what you saw in the latest IAEA Board of -- the IAEA report is that in order to answer these questions that they need Iran's cooperation, and I think you can read from that that they haven't yet received Iran's full and complete cooperation in answering all of these questions.

So what our diplomatic activity right now is focused on is to try to get the Iranians to the negotiating table so that through negotiation, through a process of diplomacy, the world can be assured that they will not be able to pursue a nuclear weapons program under the cover of a civilian nuclear program.  So that's the point.

Now, in the case of -- you asked about referral.  I think that we have the IAEA Board of Governors meeting that's coming up on Thursday and Friday.  We are going to wait to see what the diplomacy yields.  I think at this point our policy view is that we would like to give the Russians and the EU-3 a little bit of diplomatic running room to see if they can get the Iranians back to the table for a serious negotiation based on what they have already outlined.  We have said that, you know, again, given Iran's past behavior that Iran should be referred to the Security Council and we think that the votes are there on the IAEA Board of Governors.  But again, we want to give them, the EU-3 and the Russians, a little diplomatic running room.  You know, the whole issue of referral comes up as a way to, again, arrive at a diplomatic tool, a diplomatic lever, to try to get Iran to change its behavior.

QUESTION:  I've got two follow-ups, Sean, if I could.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Mm-hmm, sure.

QUESTION:  You talk about Russians and EU-3 now.  Is that now -- do we have a four?  Do we have a quartet now that's going there?

And the second is about China.  Do you think China is now increasingly coming on board in terms of the strategy, perspective?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, in terms of the Russians and the EU-3, they themselves have come out and talked a little bit about the cooperation and discussions that they are -- that they have underway.  You know, our role in this is really -- is sort of a support role.  We are there.  Obviously, we talk to them.  Nick Burns was in London talking to the EU-3 and we'll find out who else was there as well.  So you know, I'm going to leave it to the EU-3 and the Russians to kind of describe their association.

QUESTION:  How are they (inaudible) to the Russian enrichment idea?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yeah, we -- Steve Hadley -- Steve Hadley from -- and Secretary Rice have talked about the fact that it's an interesting idea, worthy of pursuit.  And I talked about the fact here we want to give them a little bit of running room in terms of the diplomacy, see if they can -- see if they can get something done.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) Russia has emerged as a major player?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think -- you know, I think -- well, again, they're the ones who have put out -- put out this idea.  We think it's certainly an idea that can form the basis of negotiations.  But you can't have those negotiations without somebody on the other side of the table.  They don't have somebody on the other side of the table right now because the Iranians have refused to come back to the table.  So really the ball is in their court.

I think that you have a -- through the efforts of the EU-3 and the Russians as well as others on the Board of Governors you have a broadening consensus that Iran needs to get to the negotiating table on this issue.  Just at the last Board of Governors meeting you had -- you had only one country stand with Iran and that was Venezuela, and you saw countries like India start to come on in voting for the resolution and other countries like China abstaining.  I think that was a real surprise to Iran and I think it sent a real signal to them.  So we'll see -- we'll see if they've -- if they got that signal from --

QUESTION:  Do you think China's presence somehow in some form at this London meeting is further progress that they're beginning to come on board?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, you know, I don't want to speak for the Chinese Government in where they stand on this issue, but I think that their action at the last Board of Governors meeting in abstaining was a real signal to Iran and I think quite surprising to the Iranian Government.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Mr. McCormack, anything to say about U.S. secret detention facilities in Europe since Human Rights Watch last Friday with an extensive statement is claiming also that U.S. planes transferred prisoners, have repeatedly landed at airports in Greece and Cyprus, too?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Don't have anything for you on that.

QUESTION:  And one more on Kosovo?  Mr. George Soros, the well known American billionaire which has been decorated in the Albanian capital before yesterday as a former citizen, has donated to the Albanians from his own pocket $57 million and stated, "There is no alternative solution than the independence of Kosovo."  Since your government is dealing with Mr. Soros for his various activities in the Balkans, may we have your comment?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think I talked about the sort of core issue in your question that was regarding Kosovo's status and I don't have anything to add to that.

QUESTION:  I have a quick question on the Middle East, if you will allow me, please, again, on the Middle East.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  General Aoun, Michel Aoun, the opposition leader from Lebanon, is here in town, Washington.  Could you explain what's the object of this visit?  Is it true he's meeting Mr. David Welch tomorrow, as we were told?

MR. MCCORMACK:  You'll have to ask him what the object of --

QUESTION:  But why is he visiting Washington at this time while all the investigations are --

MR. MCCORMACK:  You'll have to ask him.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:16 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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