State Department Briefing, December 1
01 December 2005
North Korea, Rice's upcoming travel to Europe, U.S. response letter to EU Jack Straw/alleged detainee sites, public diplomacy, border security, Venezuela, Iraq, India, Egypt, Iraq/Iran, United Arab Emirates, Uganda
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack briefed the media December 1.
Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Thursday, December 1, 2005
12:51 p.m. EST
Briefer: Sean McCormack, Spokesman
-- Six-Party Talks/U.S. Offer to Provide Briefing to DPRK Representatives
-- Issue of Distribution of Counterfeit U.S. Currency
-- Monitoring of Food Aid in North Korea
-- Secretary Rice's Upcoming Travel to Europe/Meetings/Agenda
-- U.S. in Process of Formulating Response to Letter from EU Presidency Foreign Secretary Straw on Alleged Secret Detainee Sites/Timetable for U.S. Response to Letter/Prospects for Publicly Releasing Response
-- Impact of Allegations on U.S. Public Diplomacy Efforts/Secretary's Travel
-- Reports of State Department and Homeland Security Proposal for Passport Card for Border Travel
-- Decision of Some Opposition Parties to Withdraw from Upcoming Legislative Elections
-- U.S. Concerns about Democracy in Venezuela
-- Reports of Stories Planted in Iraqi Media
-- Standards and Practices of Iraqi Media
-- Video on Contractor's Website Reportedly Showing Firing on Civilian Vehicles
-- Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative
-- Violence Surrounding Recent Phases of Egyptian Electoral Process
-- Government's Efforts to Ensure Peaceful Electoral Process/Environment
-- Arrests of Muslim Brotherhood Members
-- Status of Possible Meetings Between U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad and Iranian Counterparts
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
-- Reported Announcement on Holding Parliamentary Elections
-- Reported Offer by Resistance Army to Discuss Peace Talks with Ugandan Government
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DECEMBER 1, 2005
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
12:51 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I don't have any opening statements so we'll get right into questions.
Okay. Thank you very much. (Laughter.) Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the so-called semantics dispute that led to postponement of the meeting with the North Koreans?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not sure it was a semantic dispute. Assistant Secretary Hill, when he was at the last round of the six-party talks, gave a press conference and he went -- he went into this issue. He was asked about North Korean concerns about certain actions that the United States and others are engaged in to curb North Korean illicit behavior outside of the six-party talks and Assistant Secretary Hill stated publicly that the U.S. is prepared to provide a briefing to the North Korean representatives on issues related to actions taken under Section 311 of the Patriot Act that has to do with trying to prevent counterfeiting. And that offer still stands and it would appear that the North Korean Government isn't interested in accepting this offer for such a briefing. As part of this offer of a briefing, the United States never offered to engage in negotiations with North Korea on this matter. There are negotiations in the context of the six-party talks, which are directed at the nuclear issue. I think that nobody should expect that the United States as well as other states aren't going to pursue actions that would curb other illegal behavior including counterfeiting by any state, by any party.
QUESTION: Sean, did you say what the U.S. understanding is about North Korea's role in counterfeiting, if any?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that that's probably -- that's an issue more directly -- that should be directly put to the Department of Treasury as well as law enforcement authorities. I think they'd be able to provide you more information about that. There have been recent actions that were taken by the Department of Treasury under the Patriot Act concerning certain banks but I think that they would be in a better position to provide you the details on that data.
QUESTION: You are not concerned it could hamper your efforts on the nuclear aspect of the negotiations?
MR. MCCORMACK: We said from the very beginning that we are not going to fail to speak out or fail to act concerning issues that are of concern to us, whether that happens to be on the human rights front or whether that happens to be on taking steps to prevent disbursement of counterfeit bills on the world -- country -- U.S. bills on the world markets. I think that you can expect that any state would take actions to prevent such counterfeiting to protect its currency. We've said from the very beginning that that is going to be -- that that is the case. We are committed to pursuing the six-party talks and we are devoting quite a bit of time, energy and diplomatic effort to have those negotiations move forward. We have seen some progress in the round before last concerning a statement of principles and we hope that in the next round that the North Koreans and others are prepared to work in a serious, concerted manner to move that process forward and focus on the nuclear issue.
QUESTION: This is related to North Korea. USAID had warned that if the normal way of distributing food in North Korea didn't continue that by the end of November than the U.S. wouldn't -- would not be able to give its quota, as it were, of aid. So the month is up. Do you know now, is that still the case that you definitely aren't going to give them the food because the distribution system has changed?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you on the specifics of that, Saul. I know that we as well as others, the World Food Program included, have expressed our concerns about the monitoring of food aid to make sure that that aid gets to the intended recipients, the North Korean people, and that it is used for its intended purpose as a humanitarian gesture from the United States as well as the rest of the world.
QUESTION: The Secretary is going to Europe next week. Can you give us some details on this trip and some -- can you explain us what you expect, what U.S. expects from it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that she -- the Secretary is certainly looking forward to her trip to Europe. We leave on Monday and we'll try to get you a more complete schedule as -- in the coming day or so. She's going to be traveling to Germany. She's going to have the first meeting -- her first meeting with Chancellor Merkel as well as other members of the German cabinet.
She expects to, during those meetings, cover the whole range of topics that you might expect, a lot of the topics that she discussed with the German Foreign Minister while he was here: talk about Iran, talk about Afghanistan, U.S.-European relations, U.S.-German relations; how do we help in the spread of democracy around the world as well as in Europe. There are still places in Europe where the spread of democracy has been impeded, for instance, in Belarus. They'll also talk, I expect, about the Ukraine. How can the United States and Europe help the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian Government consolidate the gains they have realized from the Orange Revolution?
I would expect that, you know, the issue -- the issues in the newspapers will come up. The Secretary will be ready to talk to the Chancellor about those issues if they do come up, just as she did with the German Foreign Minister.
In the Ukraine, she is going to be -- she's going to have meetings there with government officials. I'll try to get you the list of -- list of those officials. She's going to be talking about the importance of the Ukrainian Government following through on the spirit of the Orange Revolution and that is to build truly democratic institutions that engage in good governance, that serve the Ukrainian people, in essence, consolidating all those gains that they have realized. She'll talk about them -- talk with the Ukrainian leadership about ways the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian Government in those efforts.
She'll also travel to Romania and there she will sign an -- and I'll have to get the exact title for you -- a defense, security and cooperation agreement with the Romanian Government. This will -- this really concerns and is part of the United States Government's global posture review: How are we aligned around the world in terms of our military assets, how can we work with other governments for potential use of their facilities in the case that they are needed for U.S. or coalition forces flowing to locations around the world to address military issues.
She's also going to be -- make a stop in Brussels. She will have some ministerial level meetings there, not only among the North Atlantic Council, but there's going to be the NATO-Ukraine meeting. There's going to be a NATO-Russia meeting as well. I expect that they are going to talk about the whole host of alliance issues, emphasizing the importance of all NATO countries allocating the assets in their budgets so that they can meet their NATO commitments. I expect they'll talk about Afghanistan; the issue of deployment of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan as part of ISAF mission. And I expect that there will be other topics that come up as well and we'll try to, as I said, we'll try to get you a more full schedule as we get closer to departure, which is coming up pretty quickly.
QUESTION: Saul, is this on Europe?
QUESTION: Okay. Then continue talking.
QUESTION: Drafting a reply to the Straw letter.
MR. MCCORMACK: We have the letter and we are -- I guess the best way to put it -- we are in the process of formulating a response to Foreign Secretary Straw's inquiry. I don't yet have a timetable for you in terms of when we will provide that response, but we are working on it. We here in the State Department are working on it. The response will be on behalf of the United States Government, so there are other elements of the U.S. Government involved in formulating that response as well.
QUESTION: Do you expect that it's something that you guys can release, that the public can see unedited?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, when this topic first came up, in terms of the letter from Foreign Secretary Straw, what I had pledged to you was that I was going to work on your behalf to get to you in as timely a manner as I can, as much information about this response. So in terms of the mechanism for that response, I don't have that for you yet, but we're going to -- as soon as I have something that I can provide to you, I'll let you know.
QUESTION: So, Sean, I know you said that you -- it's a little early to say what'll actually be in the response. But the letter itself asks for clarification. So I know you said that the Secretary and the government is committed to, you know, responding to the letter to the best of your ability, but are you committed to providing clarification or are you just committed to providing a response to the letter?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what I have said is that we are committed to the best of our ability, providing as forthright and timely an answer as we possibly can to Foreign Secretary Straw's inquiry. Beyond that, I'm not going to presuppose exactly what is going to be in that response but we will, as I said, try to share with you in as timely a manner as I possibly -- as we possibly can the content of that response.
QUESTION: Sean, will the letter ask for clarification to allay concerns among parliaments and publics in Europe? I wonder both in how you are responding to the letter and just generally in your public diplomacy, how confident you are that you can allay such concerns?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that that's going to be matter for individuals as they think about this issue or opinion makers to decide for themselves. We look forward to a discussion about the broader issue of how it is that governments deal with fighting the war on terrorism, how is that we defeat an enemy that, as I have said before, does not wear a uniform, follows no rules, follows no regulations, abides by no international treaties or rules.
So I think that that's certainly an important discussion, important ongoing discussion that the American public, European publics, have. It is a discussion here in the United States. We see these issues debated in the Congress, you know, regarding the Patriot Act and other measures, you know, how is it that we deal with fighting terrorism? So I expect that that is going to be an ongoing discussion. As long as there is a war on terrorism, I expect that discussion to take place. We look forward to engaging in that discussion not only on this trip to Europe but also in the future.
As for what potential effects our response to Foreign Secretary Straw's letter might have or the effect of our -- you know, the points that we make as part of this public discussion is going to have to -- obviously, that's up to individuals, opinion makers and others in these societies to decide for themselves.
QUESTION: Would you like more help from your allies in Europe at moving public opinion?
MR. MCCORMACK: These are issues that governments will have to decide for themselves how they address with their publics, how they address with broader international publics. And I think that every government is going to approach that discussion differently, that how that discussion manifests itself in terms of laws and regulations is also going to be, I expect, unique to each country.
Let's move around a little bit here.
QUESTION: Change the subject?
QUESTION: Oh, no -- same.
MR. MCCORMACK: We can stay on this. Okay, sure.
QUESTION: Do you have the feeling that actually the European governments are using U.S. to escape the situation becoming a bit embarrassing for them in this?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no.
QUESTION: Can I actually stay on this? Have you made a decision to at least try and have the Secretary deliver the response while she's in Europe or is there no decision on the timing?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think in terms of the timetable, I don't have anything for you at this time. We'll keep you updated in terms of the timing of our response.
Anything else on this topic? Okay, then we'll move over here and then over to you, Libby.
QUESTION: The subject on Venezuela?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: The OAS has ratified the transparency of the referendum of 2004. And yesterday they criticized the opposition saying that the electoral commission accept the machine, such as the functioning of the machine that digitalize fingerprints. These were important advance to all to generate more confidence, say the OAS. Can you explain why did you yesterday said you understand the position of the withdrawn party? Do you see a difference between you and the OAS?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. I don't -- I have not seen this OAS pertaining to which you referred. But with the point that emphasized yesterday in my response to the question was that these were the decisions of the individual political parties. I think that our concerns regarding the -- how Venezuela has been governed and the effect of that governance on democratic institutions in Venezuela is well known. That's not anything new. But in terms of the decision of the political parties, I emphasize that that was one for them to take.
QUESTION: You yesterday said that the election process is jeopardize in this time, so my question is do you have evidence that this election will be different or -- I don't know, the United States no longer have confidence in the international observers?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that my -- that particular part of my response yesterday referred to our longstanding concerns about democracy in Venezuela and the way in which the current government has governed.
Let's just move on. Yes.
QUESTION: Sean, news reports of the U.S. military planting stories in the Iraqi media. I know you referred us to the Defense Department yesterday, but you know, since State has been training Iraqi journalists on best practices for a free press and things like that, doesn't this story undermine our efforts to do that and doesn't it affect the credibility of Iraqi journalists?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, a couple of things. I think General Pace addressed this issue yesterday as well. It was news to him. He is going to look into the reports. He said that they were concerning to him, so I understand the Department of Defense is currently looking into these reports, understand exactly what it is, whether there is a basis for these news reports and exactly what happened. So I think we'll -- in terms of the facts, we'll wait to see what the Department of Defense comes up with.
I expressed yesterday our full square -- four square support for a responsible, independent Iraqi media -- a free, independent, responsible Iraqi media. It's important. It's an essential element of any democracy. And as you point out, the State Department is working with journalists in Iraq to help them develop the skills that you all have in terms of reporting and journalistic ethics and practices. That's important. This is a country where a free media didn't exist for decades, so they are learning. We think it's important to assist them in that.
In terms of the -- you know, the standards and practices that they themselves develop, that is going to be for them to develop. I think that the standards and practices in countries around the world will vary, according to, you know, according to the media in a particular country, according to the culture and values and other things. But there is a bedrock principle of a free, independent, responsible media and I think that everybody shares.
QUESTION: But if our government is working to put favorable stories in the Iraqi media, I mean, that sort of -- that doesn't go along with what, you know, the accepted practice in journalism is in our country. It's not what --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let's let the Department of Defense look into the facts -- what facts there are concerning the news reports. As I pointed out yesterday, General Pace himself said that this was news to him and he was going to be looking into it.
QUESTION: Is there anything that Karen Hughes and, you know, the public diplomacy team is going to do to react to this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think you're hearing me react to your questions right now. I think that the first step in this is gathering the facts, and that is what the Department of Defense is doing.
Let's move it along a bit, Saul. I'll come back. Is there anything else on this?
QUESTION: Yeah, just a quick follow-up on this. You say it was news to General Pace. So was it news to the State Department? Was it news to the Embassy in Baghdad?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't talked to them about the issue but I think that -- I think, you know, Ambassador Khalilzad got asked this question today in a couple of interviews, so I refer you to his transcript. But I didn't ask him about the issue.
QUESTION: Propaganda is established tool of war. Are you sort of drawing a distinction in principle here between the sort of propaganda that you might use in leaflets, pamphlets and propaganda that's planted stories; one's okay and the other's not?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms -- two things. One, in terms of the rules, the law of war and rules of war, I'm not expert in those things. In terms of this particular case, again, the Department of Defense is trying to determine what facts there are, and as soon as they have it, I'm sure that they're going to share them with you.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There's a video that's on the website of a State Department contractor, Aegis. The Iraq bureau or office of the contractor allegedly -- well, it shows some firing on civilian vehicles. Have you seen this video? Have you been in touch with the contractor? Do you have any comment on it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Have not seen the video. I've heard about it, heard the news reports about it. I haven't viewed it myself.
First, you know, I don't know the circumstances under which this video was taken. I think it is incumbent upon the company involved to answer any questions that may be raised about the conduct of their employees. If any of these particular employees were under contract to the U.S. Government or the U.S. mission and their behavior in any way deviated from the expected norms and standards of the U.S. mission that it has for its employees in Iraq, I would expect that that to be -- that to be looked into. I can't say that that is the case right now. You know, I would expect that if there are any concerns about this particular incident on the part of our mission in Iraq, that they're going to look into it. But I think the first stop is the company involved to see -- to answer questions concerning the circumstances surrounding the video and what exactly happened.
QUESTION: On their website, the company said that there's a kind of rules of engagement allowed for these contractors to fire upon civilian vehicles in certain circumstances. Are you concerned that there is -- what kind of abuse or a not paying enough attention and adhering to the rules of engagement by contractors, by the U.S. Government?
MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't make that leap. Again, I think you have to -- before you start making any assumptions about any particular incident, you have to get the facts concerning what -- concerning an incident. In this case, there's this videotape. I would expect that the company involved would take a look at it, answer any questions that you or others may have concerning -- concerning the videotape. As I said, if this company was engaged by the U.S. mission and these particular individuals were part of that contract to the U.S. mission and their -- and it was found that their behavior deviated in some way from what was expected and what the rules of engagement were, I would expect that people would -- people would take some action. But again, I can't say that right now because we don't know the facts.
QUESTION: I know you say you don't -- you haven't seen the video.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: But you have heard about it and --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- it has firing upon civilian vehicles with a kind of happy music in the background.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I haven't seen it; I can't attest to that. So I think that the first stop for you is to put these questions to the contractor in question. If there's any involvement regarding the U.S. mission in this -- in these particular images, then I would expect our mission to look into it. But, again --
QUESTION: Does it sound like something that the U.S. Government --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not in the business of commenting about sounds like something here. What we have to do is comment based on facts and right now I don't think we have the facts.
QUESTION: Have you asked -- I'm sorry one more on this -- have you been in touch with the contractor or are you looking for --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I just recently heard about these news reports, so I haven't had a chance to look into that particular aspect in depth.
QUESTION: Can you look in to see whether --
MR. MCCORMACK: If we have anything further on it we'll let you know.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Same topic.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Sean, have you heard -- had reports before of contractors indiscriminately firing on civilians? Haven't there been these kind of reports before that just haven't ever been substantiated?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look into whether or not there are any other similar kinds of reports. At this point, I don't have anything for you right now.
QUESTION: Have you had a chance to look into the letter I asked about yesterday about the Indian nuclear deal?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have received a letter. I think that this is, frankly, going to be a topic of discussion in the coming months. We came to an agreement with the Indian Government after a long, long period of discussion concerning this issue. I think that in our view the reason why we did come to this -- in part, the reason why we did come to this agreement with the Indian Government is that we believe it is a net gain for nonproliferation efforts.
And we are working on a variety of avenues on this issue. We're working within the Nuclear Suppliers Group. We have made some preliminary -- had some preliminary discussions within the Nuclear Suppliers Group on this issue. Under Secretary Burns and Under Secretary Joseph had some initial consultations with the Hill on the issue.
I would expect that there is going to be a full discussion about this issue, but we think at the end of the day that this is the right deal for the United States. We believe it's the right deal for nonproliferation efforts.
An important component of this agreement would be the eventual separation of the Indian civilian and military nuclear programs. We think that that's important. And as part of that, the civilian nuclear programs would come under safeguard protections. You know, we have heard and we understand the concerns of those who say that this isn't the right deal. Certainly, we look forward to discussing their concerns with them, including members of the Hill, members of the House of Representatives and members of the Senate. But at the end of the day, we think that they -- the majority will see that this is the right deal for America as well as for global nonproliferation efforts.
QUESTION: So are you saying that you're not open to amendments or other suggestions? Because obviously the fact that India is not a member of the NPT is the issue here and that you're going to take their word that they'll separate the military program from the civilian program, but they're not -- at this point, they're not going to allow involuntary inspections by the IAEA. That's what they say.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, we're waiting -- we're waiting to hear from the Indian Government about their plan. Part of this is a discussion about what their plans will be on this matter.
As for our discussions and working with the Hill, I'm not going to presuppose anything at this point. I think the initial -- the consultations have really just begun on this. I would expect that next year, the first half of next year, that this discussion is going to pick up. It's one that we look forward to having.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say you're open to ideas?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that we are certainly open to a full consultation and discussion with the Hill on this matter. They are going to play an important role in this.
QUESTION: Just one last one on this. The Pakistani Ambassador -- we did an interview last week -- the week before, actually -- and he said that if exceptions or changes of U.S. law are done because of -- to make this deal happen with India, that other countries should be, you know, able to benefit from it, too. And obviously your view of the Pakistani programs is different from India's, but will other countries be able to benefit from what India is getting from you?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that everybody is going to benefit from enhancing the global nonproliferation regime. We think that that's the net effect of this.
In terms of India and Pakistan, we have -- one of the, I think, important stories of the past five -- past four years has been the development of good U.S.-Pakistani relations and good U.S.-India relations separate and apart. We have de-hyphenated these relations and we think that is an important accomplishment of this Administration. We have a good partner in fighting the war on terrorism in Pakistan. We have a good and broadening relationship with India. And we look forward to advancing those relationships independent of one another.
QUESTION: I have a question about the Egyptian elections. It's becoming more and more violent. There was one dead and 70 wounded today when the police shot demonstrators in front of the polling station. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have -- we are concerned about the violence that has surrounded recent -- recent phases of the Egyptian electoral process. This is the third and final round that began today. There's also, I think, going to be some runoff elections after this round as well. But these elections are overall an important step on Egypt's path towards democratic reform.
As I have said before, we are concerned that these -- that violence has intruded upon these elections. As I have said before, it is the responsibility of the Egyptian Government to provide an atmosphere for all Egyptians where they feel free to express their will at the ballot box in a peaceful manner; that they don't feel threat, intimidation or they are not barred from voting. It is important that the Egyptian Government provide that atmosphere for all of its citizens and I am sure that the Egyptian Government is committed to providing that environment. We have talked to the Egyptian Government on -- about this issue and we expect that any government would want to provide an environment where their citizens can feel free to express, peacefully, their will at -- through the ballot box.
QUESTION: Did you have the contact with them recently about that? It seems the last --
MR. MCCORMACK: I know that -- I know that this has been part of an ongoing discussion. I don't know exactly when our last contact with them has been on this issue, but I know we have been -- we have talked to them recently about this issue.
QUESTION: And do you plan to engage more aggressively with them on that? Are you going to send somebody there or --
MR. MCCORMACK: Ultimately, these are, you know, it's not the United States that creates this environment in Egypt; it's the Egyptian Government -- you know, the environment where people can fell free to cast a ballot. So that's the responsibility of the Egyptian Government. But what we can do is continue to focus on the importance of the Egyptian Government providing that kind of environment.
QUESTION: Despite the worsening violence, you're still convinced the Egyptian Government's committed to providing the atmosphere that you want. Does that mean then that they're just not capable of doing it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Saul, I'm sure that they want the same thing that everybody does and that is an environment where everybody can express their peaceful free will through the ballot box. This is an important step in the democratic reform process for Egypt as its political class undergoes changes as a result of elections. Elections can have a transformative effect, we believe on the political classes. It's a positive development.
So we're sure that the Egyptian Government shares the desire to provide that kind of environment, that sort of peaceful environment for this election, to unfold.
QUESTION: But no, I understand that you are sure that that's what they want. What's happening is that isn't happening. There's no -- there hasn't been the provision of a peaceful environment. And so do you assess why not?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think at this point, Saul, we have expressed our concerns to the Egyptian Government, concerning the violence that has intruded upon these elections. And we have emphasized to them that it is important that they act to create the kind of peaceful environment -- environment that is important for free and democratic elections.
QUESTION: Can I follow-up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: I mean, are you sure? I mean, does this cast doubt upon the Egyptian Government's true commitment to peaceful and free and fair elections?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that we have not received, at this point, any indication that the Egyptian Government isn't interested in having peaceful, free and fair elections. I remember back many months ago, when the Secretary was in Egypt. She had a press conference with Foreign Minister Gheit. He, at that point, expressed his will and his desire that there be free and fair elections in Egypt, and that was with respect to presidential elections, but I would expect that that expression and that desire continues through these parliamentary elections as well.
QUESTION: Do you acknowledge, Sean, that there is a disconnect your assessment -- that you're convinced they want a peaceful election and the fact that there isn't one -- a peaceful election?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that what I would say at this point, Saul, we are working on the ground to understand the exact circumstances of some of these events, the violence that has taken the place, the arrests -- some of the arrests that have taken place. I don't think we have a full picture of that yet so I couldn't really offer you a complete assessment at this point.
QUESTION: Okay. It just seems a bit like Elise was saying, there's probably just two ways of looking this: There isn't a peaceful environment because they're just incapable of providing it because they can't control their own security force so they can't control protests. Or if it's not that, it's that they're aren't actually -- they're not actually committed to a peaceful process, even though that's what they are telling you and even though that's what you're convinced about. So considering that second option is a possibility, are you at all concerned that they're pulling the wool over your eyes?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think at this point we want to understand the circumstances of the violence. I don't think that I can -- standing here -- tell you that we have a complete understanding of the arrests -- some of the arrests that have taken place and of the violence that has taken place. We're working to understand that better. And I think that once we have an understanding -- a better understanding of that, some of the facts, then we can offer a more complete assessment about the elections as a whole is -- you know, we have spoken, I think pretty forcefully and forthrightly about the fact that it is important that these elections -- that the Egyptian Government act to create a peaceful environment.
But let's not lose sight of the fact that this is part of a democratic reform process that is advancing in Egypt. You had multiparty presidential candidate elections. You now have partway through or nearing the end of parliamentary elections in Egypt, you know, in which a number of independents have won seats. I think -- I haven't checked the record books, but I think this is one of the biggest gains of independent seats in the history of Egyptian parliamentary elections. So that is significant. You see an opening of the political process in Egypt. That is positive. So while these -- while these -- some of this violence is concerning, and while some of -- there are questions concerning some of the arrests that have taken place, let's not lose sight of the fact that this is a -- that these elections overall represent an important step in the democratic reform process in Egypt.
QUESTION: I take your point that there's a bigger context to all this. There's some advances that you are noting. But I just want to speak about the part that's concerning you, which is the violence. You say you're looking for complete understanding, but there have been three rounds and there have been observers, international observers giving their assessments. There have been records, public records of the number of people arrested and you say it's pretty obvious that the arrests target the Muslim Brotherhood. They're the vast majority of arrests. So why is it so tardy? Why are you taking so long to make your assessment? There's plenty of evidence out there.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that, you know, our people on the ground are working hard to gather the facts. Concerning -- you know, concerning the arrest, as I said, I don't have all the facts concerning these arrests, but I think putting aside the specific case of Egypt, I think that we would say that we would be concerned about any use of a law, wherever it may be, in whatever election, any use of law by a government specifically and -- applying that law specifically in order to impede the peaceful political expression of people trying to participate in an electoral process.
So I think as a general principle, certainly we would have any misapplication -- concerns about any misapplication of the law. Now, specifically with respect to Egypt, I don't -- again, I can't attest to the particular facts concerning these arrests. I know that others have made claims, others have spoken out about this issue. But based on the information I have here, I cannot provide you a full picture concerning the particular -- the particulars of those arrests.
If and when we do have a more full picture concerning the violence or the arrests, I'd be pleased to share that with you.
QUESTION: Well, that's quite a noteworthy juxtaposition. We weren't asking about any law and you decided to talk about things more generally, but in the context of the Egyptian election you talk about the misapplication of the law --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I didn't talk about it in terms of --
QUESTION: No, you said --
MR. MCCORMACK: What I said --
QUESTION: You juxtaposed the two. You said --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I said -- I said as a general principle and I said putting aside the Egyptian elections. So I want to make it clear that I was making a very clear distinction. I wasn't making a judgment at this point concerning the Egyptian elections.
QUESTION: I agree. I agree that's what you're doing, but nevertheless you chose to take this public diplomacy into an arena about misapplication of laws that could impede fair elections or peaceful elections. So I'm asking you: Is there a misapplication of the law in Egypt at the moment in these targeted arrests?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I get back to my -- the first part of my answer in which I talked about the fact that I did not have the particulars surrounding these arrests, particular facts surrounding these arrests.
QUESTION: You don't think in Egypt, particularly with the Egyptian authorities, your juxtaposition will echo, will resonate, just the way it has done with me?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to try to speak to how any particular individual might react. I was making a very general point about our views about elections and how we would expect any election around the world, wherever it may be, to unfold.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you talk about plans by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to propose a passport card for border travel?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look into it for you. I know that there are -- there have been recent changes in the law governing travel within the Western Hemisphere. I know that we're working with our -- with our friends in Canada and Mexico on that issue. But in terms of any other details, I don't have them for you right now.
QUESTION: Is there any update -- change of subject. Is there any update on the U.S. offer to hold talks with Iran on issues specifically related to Iraq? I didn't know if Ambassador Khalilzad has made any progress.
MR. MCCORMACK: Nope.
QUESTION: Nothing at all?
MR. MCCORMACK: There's -- well, it's not a matter of his making progress. This is a mechanism that exists and there have been no discussions on those -- using that mechanism.
QUESTION: The Iranians apparently have said that they are ruling this out. Has that -- is that something that's been formally conveyed to the United States through any means?
MR. MCCORMACK: I believe we did hear back in that regard from them.
QUESTION: Change of topic. How do you view the latest announcement by the President of United Arab Emirates Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayid to hold the first ever parliamentary elections, partial parliamentary elections in the United Arab Emirates? How do you view this step and how does it relate to the broader Middle East project (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think we have to look into the details of this announcement. I think our initial reaction is it's a positive step and we look forward to hearing more about the details concerning the plans for the parliamentary elections.
QUESTION: Would you start a dialogue with the Abu Dhabi government regarding this step?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think what we're going to do is we're going to look at the details here first.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the Uganda -- anything to say about the Lord's Resistance Army offer to enter into peace talks with the government?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to look into that for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 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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