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State Department Briefing, January 9

09 January 2006

North Korea, Israel/Palestinian Authority, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Iran, Australia, Iraq, Switzerland, Nepal, Germany

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack briefed the press January 9.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Monday, January 9, 2006
12:55 p.m. EST

Sean McCormack, Spokesman

-- North Korean Conditions for Return to Six-Party Talks
-- Treasury Department Actions Regarding North Korea

-- Palestinian Candidates in East Jerusalem
-- Welch/Abrams Trip
-- Secretary's Phone Call to Quartet Members
-- Hamas Television Statement
-- Postponement of Elections

-- U.S. Actions to Resolve Ongoing Dispute
-- Status of Peacekeeping Forces
-- Travel of Assistant Secretary Frazer and General Fulford

-- Ongoing Nuclear Concerns/Breaking of IAEA Seals
-- Status of Russian Proposal
-- UN Security Council/IAEA Activity
-- EU Policy on Iran

-- Secretary's Meeting with Foreign Minister Downer
-- Australian Troop Presence in Iraq and Afghanistan

-- Troop Levels/Book by Paul Bremer
-- Results of Iraqi Elections
-- U.S. Progress in Quelling Insurgency

-- Alleged Swiss Intelligence Intercept

-- Update on Political Situation

-- Chancellor Merkel's Remarks on Guantanamo



12:55 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK:  Good afternoon.  Sorry, I don't want to interrupt the conversation over there.  (Laughter.)  If we're all ready to begin.

I don't have any opening statements, but I would like to take this opportunity to welcome back Mr. George Gedda.  (Applause.)  We missed you at the briefings, George, and it's good to have you back here today in the front row.  So with that, I think I'd like to give Mr. Gedda the first question.

QUESTION:  Do you want to say anything on background?  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  The North Koreans are conditioning a return to the six-party talks on a lifting of sanctions.  Did you see that story?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I did.  Again, they committed at the last round of the six-party talks, George, to returning without precondition to the negotiating table, so we would call upon them to abide by the their pledge that all the other five members of the parties made:  to return at the earliest possible date to the six-party talks to focus on serious negotiations with the desired -- the agreed upon end state being a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.  And we would call upon them to do that.

QUESTION:  So how are you going to get the talks going again?

QUESTION:  Could I follow that?


QUESTION:  Is there any alternative here --

QUESTION:  Certainly, you can follow on that.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Well --

QUESTION:  On Korea.

MR. MCCORMACK:  And one other point, too.  The actions that the Department of Treasury took with respect to a couple of banks that were engaged, in our view and based on the evidence that we have, in illicit activities, counterfeiting, money laundering, were taken in compliance with U.S. law.  The Patriot Act, Section 311 of the Patriot Act.  We are going to continue to take those steps and we believe that any other country would take steps to protect itself, to act to prevent or stop illicit activity.  Whether that's counterfeiting or whether that's money laundering or engaging in drug trafficking or the trafficking in illicit military technologies, the United States is going to take actions to prevent that.

That is whole and apart from the issue of the six-party talks.  We are focused on returning to the six-party talks at the earliest possible date and we hope that the North Korean Government shares that view.  They committed to it at the last round and we hope they abide by that commitment.

QUESTION:  I suppose that means you -- someone took another look at the -- they were not all North Korean.  I think there were three North Korean.  But somebody took another look --

MR. MCCORMACK:  It was all tied to North Korean activity.  It was all tied to North Korea.

QUESTION:  It all holds up?  The findings hold up as far as --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yes, yeah.  These things are -- the Treasury Department is very careful in going through the accumulating and analyzing this evidence, in coordination with other parts of the U.S. Government.

Barbara, you had something else?

QUESTION:  No, I just wondered if -- is our patience on this infinite?  I mean, if they don't come back, they don't come back.  They say today they won't come back unless those sanctions are lifted.  Do we have any other -- is there any other policy that's being considered?

MR. MCCORMACK:  We are continuing to focus to get them back -- get them back to the table.  We're in contact with the other members of the six-party talks on this issue.  I'd expect in the coming days we would also -- we'd be in further contact with them on this issue to get them back to the table.

QUESTION:  Are there any direct contacts with the North Koreans on this?

MR. MCCORMACK:  In terms of the New York channel, I haven't checked recently.  There's always -- you know, there's always, on any given day, some form of contact through that diplomatic channel, but most of it tends to be of an administrative nature.  And in any case, that is not a negotiating channel.

QUESTION:  Can we switch to --

QUESTION:  Can I just do one more?


QUESTION:  The North Koreans are also saying that even if it did return to talks and even if they did manage to get an agreement at the talks forum, it would then be vetoed back in Washington by, let's say, the higher authority.  I guess the implication is that they don't believe that either the U.S. is negotiating in good faith or that the negotiators have the real power of the Bush Administration.  Is that fair?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, first of all, they've already tested that the proposition whether or not the United States negotiates in good faith.  We got a Statement of Principles at the last round of -- last round of talks.  So I think the good-faith negotiating stance of the United States is certainly borne out by that as well as the previous history on this issue.  And in terms of our negotiating team, it's led by Assistant Secretary Chris Hill, who has the confidence of the Secretary of State and the President of the United States in being our lead negotiator on this issue.

QUESTION:  On another thing, Israel is permitting Palestinian candidates to (inaudible) in Jerusalem -- to campaign in Jerusalem.  Has the Israeli Government told the U.S. more than that?  And if it hasn't, in any event, what do you make of that development?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Barry, I haven't seen those comments from the Israeli Government, but I know that this has been a continuing issue between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government.  We have talked about the fact that, in the past, they have been able to resolve differences concerning this issue.  We would hope and expect that they could do so again as we -- in the run-up to the January 25th parliamentary elections.

QUESTION:  And what about the U.S. duo?  Can you tell us about whether Mr. Welch and Mr. Abrams are going back, are back?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'm glad you asked that, Barry.  The Secretary -- two things.  One, the Secretary did have a call with the Quartet this morning and that was with Foreign Minister Lavrov, EU representative Solana and EU representative Ferrero-Waldner as well as Secretary General Annan.  They discussed the situation in the region.  And one of the things that the Secretary raised with the Quartet was that Mr. Abrams and Assistant Secretary Welch would be traveling back to the region.  I think they're scheduled to leave tomorrow for the region.

This is a rescheduling of a previously postponed trip last week.  They were scheduled to go.  This is the same set of issues:  to talk about security issues, to talk about preparations for the January 25th elections, as well as implementation of the movement and access agreement.  So they'll be meeting both with the Palestinian officials as well as Israeli officials, but I don't have a list of who.

QUESTION:  Is it fair to say that you're back to normal, even as Mr. Sharon is hospitalized, that you're proceeding as just about the way you would?  This is pretty much the way you're go at things.  I mean, you have them, you have the security general there.  Those are the main initiatives at this point, aren't they?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, the -- we all know that Prime Minister Sharon is in the hospital and we continue to hope for his recovery.  In terms of contacts at the working level, those do continue.  As I said last week, there is -- there are still agreements in place that require follow-up.  We are following up, as are others, on implementation of those agreements.  I would note the movement and access agreement.  There's still steps to take in that agreement.  We're working in contact with Israeli and Palestinian officials on that.

We're also working very closely with the Palestinian Authority on building the capabilities of the Palestinian security forces.  Clearly, that's an area where the Palestinian Authority needs to take steps.  They have come some distance on that, but there's much more that needs to be done.  They will -- Elliot and David will be talking about that.  General Dayton is back in the region. That's part of his mandate and he continues to work on those issues with the Israelis and the Palestinians.

QUESTION:  As of Friday, the Secretary had spoken, if ever so briefly, to Mr. Sharon's temporary, whatever, replacement.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Acting Prime Minister.

QUESTION:  Acting -- if that's the title, yeah, and to Mr. Weisglass.  Anything further?  Has she had any further telephone conversations that you can tell us about?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Not on that issue, no.


MR. MCCORMACK:  Sure.  Elise.

QUESTION:  Mahmoud Abbas said that he spoke with Secretary Rice yesterday --


QUESTION:  -- and he said he was given --

MR. MCCORMACK:  (Inaudible.)

QUESTION:  He said he was given assurances by the Secretary that Israel would allow voting in East Jerusalem and that U.S. was putting pressure on Israel to do so.

MR. MCCORMACK:  The Secretary reiterated what I have said, that this is an issue that the Palestinians and the Israelis need to resolve.  She underscored the importance of the January 25th elections moving forward as scheduled and said -- and she also reiterated the fact that, in the past, the Israelis and the Palestinians have been able to come to some accommodation on this issue.  They've done it twice before, to my knowledge, so we would hope and expect that they are able to do so again.

QUESTION:  Well, but in the past, the U.S. has used its good offices, if you will, to put pressure on the Israelis to allow voting.  I mean, it wasn't just that they worked it out.  It was, in some part, due to U.S. influence.  Is the U.S. using its influence?  Is it talking to the Israelis, urging them to allow the voting?

MR. MCCORMACK:  This is -- I know there's a tendency to want to try to paint these things in terms of a zero-sum game; if you're doing one thing with one party, you can't do it with another.  This is fundamentally an issue between the Israelis and the Palestinians in terms of what accommodations they arrive at.  At the end of the day, they are the ones that have to be comfortable with the agreements that they themselves have reached.

There are legitimate issues of security concerns on the side of the Israelis and there are legitimate issues concerning free movement and access on the Palestinian side.  That is the case in any number of issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians, so they are going to have to talk about and try to resolve any differences that they may have.  We hope that they look to the past and, when they were able to resolve these issues, come to some mutual accommodation that satisfied the legitimate security needs as well as the desires for the free movement for Palestinians so they could participate in a vote.  We hope that they are able to arrive at that -- a similar accommodation this time around.

QUESTION:  Mr. Abbas said that he was given assurances by the Secretary on behalf of President Bush, that --

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'm characterizing the Secretary's phone call.


QUESTION:  Sean, Hamas has opened a new television station.  Do you see that as trying to influence the January 25th election?  And you've had numerous troubles with Al Jazeera in the past.  Are you now monitoring what that station is doing editorially?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Al Jazeera or the Hamas station?  In terms of Hamas, our views on Hamas are well known.  It's a terrorist organization.  As for what they may or may not be doing, you'll have to ask them.

But there is a -- within Palestinian society there is a fundamental contradiction that needs to be addressed, and that is you cannot have groups that retain an option on violence, on terror, yet say they want to participate in the political process.  It's an irreconcilable difference that needs to -- it needs to be resolved.  You have to be one or the other.

But as we have said in the past, it is an issue for the Palestinian people to address.  The Palestinian people will have an opportunity on January 25th to vote in a parliamentary election.  In the past, they have, in fact, voted for those who, as President Abbas did, ran on a platform of bringing greater security and prosperity to the Palestinian people, but ultimately these are questions that the Palestinian people are going to have to answer for themselves through the ballot box.

QUESTION:  Following up on --

QUESTION:  Well, the two previous questions.  Sean, in the conversation with Abbas, was there any talk about postponement of the January 25th elections?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Not that I'm aware of.  We have urged the Palestinian Authority to hold the elections --

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) he didn't?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I haven't heard anything from the Palestinian Authority saying that they delayed the elections.

QUESTION:  They just confirmed it.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Confirmed what?

QUESTION:  The date of 25th.


QUESTION:  And they said they received U.S. assurances.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, these aren't U.S. elections.  They're Palestinian elections.  So -- let's move around.  I'll come back for anyone on that question.

QUESTION:  Yes, sir.  I understand that the U.S. is sending a delegation to the Ethiopia-Eritrean border to try to resolve that dispute.  Do you have any details on the delegation and what they hope to achieve?


QUESTION:  International efforts thus far do not seem to have been very successful.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Right.  Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer is going to be traveling to the region.  She is going to travel to both countries and visit the border area.  She's going to do this in the near future.  And the goal is to reenergize progress towards finding a lasting solution to the border conflict.  Secretary General Annan has recommended the reconvening -- convening of a meeting of the witnesses to the Algiers Accords in order to focus additional international attention on the situation in the Horn of Africa.

And we recognize the difficult situation in which UNMEE observers find themselves right now, but in light of Secretary Frazer's upcoming trip and the possible meeting of the witnesses to the Algiers Accord, we think it's appropriate that the Security Council at this time refrain from any alteration to UNMEE's mandate or configuration for a period of 30 days to allow a reenergized international engagement to make progress toward resolving this impasse.

Now, one other note.  Assistant Secretary Frazer will also be accompanied by retired General Fulford.  Retired General Carlton Fulford is the United States representative selected to lead U.S. efforts to work with the parties to resolve the border impasse.  By the way, a little bit of biographical information.  He is the former Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. European Command and currently Director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University.

QUESTION:  Did you give us his first name?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Carlton, C-a-r-l-t-o-n; and last name Fulford, F-u-l-f-o-r-d.

QUESTION:  When will she be leaving?  You said in the near future.

MR. MCCORMACK:  In the near future.

QUESTION:  Is that this week or?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I don't have -- I think it's in the -- I think it's in the coming days.  I don't have an exact date for you.

Yes, Barbara.

QUESTION:  Well, I wanted to ask about Iran.  Do we have any information about what the Iranians have actually done today?  They had planned to resume what they called research.  Has there been any activity at Natanz that --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Probably the IAEA is in the best position to give you the update on that.  You know, I don't want to become the conduit for information on what's going on there.  They have people that saw -- that are on the ground.  But my understanding is they haven't broken any seals.  We don't have any reports back on having broken any seals there.

QUESTION:  And what is the state of play regarding the Russian initiative, as far as you know?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I understand that Deputy Foreign Minister Kislyak traveled to Iran.  As a result of those discussions, both sides agreed to have a further set of discussions, I think at the beginning of February.  I'm not sure of the date.  I don't have a readout for you of those discussions, but I think, you know, that Iran still finds itself isolated from the rest of the community.  There are efforts by the Russians, there are efforts by the EU-3, by the other members of the IAEA, to engage the Iranians, to encourage them to return to the table and to negotiate in a serious manner, to not take the steps that they have threatened to take in the letter to the Director General ElBaradei.

So Iran, in that regard, continues to head in the wrong direction and that they are continuing to threaten to break the seals at Natanz to engage in enrichment-related activity, thereby removing another piece of the Paris Accord.  So we will see what happens in the coming days and weeks.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) is the U.S. any closer to seeking Security Council referral?

MR. MCCORMACK:  As the Secretary has said, we believe ultimately, just because of Iranian -- Iran's behavior in the past, that they're going to end up in the Security Council.  But we are working very closely with -- on the diplomatic front with the EU-3, the Russians and others to try to give every possible chance to these existing diplomatic avenues.  But ultimately, given Iran's track record on seeking nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program, defying the international community, bobbing and weaving, obfuscating, that we're ultimately all going to end up in the Security Council on this issue.

Yeah, sure.  We'll come back to you guys.

QUESTION:  Do you think it would be appropriate to call an emergency meeting of the IAEA should Iran go through with its threat today?

MR. MCCORMACK:  We'll see what happens.  It's an option.  It's an option.


QUESTION:  Sean, do you believe that Iran is just threatening on the seals?  You said, well, we haven't seen them actually break them yet and you -- and you said they were just threatening.  Do you think -- do you have any doubt that they do, in fact, intend to break the seals at this point?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, given the -- given -- if you look back at the statements from this regime in particular, they have -- they have, in fact, followed through on what they said that they were going to do.  At this point, I don't think you can take it any other way, although we -- I understand and, again, the IAEA will be the definitive word on what they have or haven't done on the ground there but my understanding is they haven't done anything yet, but that doesn't mean that tomorrow or the day after or the day after that, that they might not take some steps.

QUESTION:  But why do you hesitate, then, to react to the probability that they will do it?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Because they haven't done anything yet.


QUESTION:  The Chancellor of Austria today, which just assumed the six-month EU presidency, said that EU governments would impose sanctions on Iran only as a "last resort" to punish Iran for its nuclear activities.  Does the U.S. have a position on whether the EU should impose sanctions now?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I don't think we're -- again, we're playing out these diplomatic avenues right now.  This is -- those steps may or may not be down the road, as opposed to a different diplomatic state of play other than the one in which we find ourselves now.


QUESTION:  Last week, the Secretary said that you felt you had the votes to be able to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.  There were some reports over the weekend that Russia and China were coming around to your point of view that Iran has kind of been given its last chance and is close to being referred.

Do you think that you have a consensus among permanent members of the Security Council now?

MR. MCCORMACK:  We -- I don't have a vote count, but talking to our experts, they assure me we have the votes.  Whether -- as to the composition of the majority, I can't tell you at this point.  I do know that we have been working closely with Russia, with China, with the EU-3 as well as other members of the IAEA, to urge Iran to not take the steps that they have threatened to take and to reengage in the EU-3 process, to reengage with the Russians in serious negotiations.

The Iranians are receiving that message very clearly from across the bandwidth and we hope that they do receive that message.  Thus far, I don't think they have.  All they've done, up until this point, is take steps that further isolate themselves from the rest of the world.

QUESTION:  Mohammed ElBaradei said today that he was losing patience and that the world was losing patience and that he felt that if Iran didn't make some serious efforts before the time his next report was due in March, that it would have to be referred to the Security Council.  Is that the kind of timeframe that you're looking at?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Secretary Rice has deferred from attaching timelines to this and I'm not going to start doing it, but I think it is very clear from the various statements that you have coming out from the international community that the patience with Iran on this issue is running thin.  This is -- and this is not just one point of time.  We are seeing, over time, Iran becoming increasingly isolated.  You have a number of different data points.  You just mentioned the statements by Director General ElBaradei.  You have a data point with the last vote of the IAEA Board of Governors in which Iran found itself in the company only of Venezuela in opposing a finding of noncompliance.  So the Iranians are finding themselves more and more alone on this issue, and the rest of the world more and more united on the issue.


QUESTION:  Are you any closer to getting a strong sort of demarche with the P-5 on this issue?  Because the five seem to be putting together a statement on -- there's discussions going on between the capitals.

MR. MCCORMACK:  On that question, Sue, I would say only that we are working very closely with Russia, with China, with the EU-3, which includes France and Great Britain, as well as other countries, on sending just these two clear messages that I have talked about:  Don't follow through on the threats to reengage on enrichment; and don't -- and do reengage in serious negotiations with the IAEA, the EU-3 and the Russians.

QUESTION:  So you have nothing on a strong demarche?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I would just say -- I would just leave it that we are working very closely with Russia, China and France and Britain on sending a clear message to the Iranians.

QUESTION:  Just on China, how are you working with them to deliver the message?

MR. MCCORMACK:  We talk to them through a variety of different diplomatic channels.  There's been quite a bit of activity at the IAEA missions in Vienna.  I think most countries of the Board of Governors either have a separate mission or part of their bilateral mission dedicated to the IAEA.

QUESTION:  I actually meant how are you working with the Chinese so that the Chinese are delivering the message.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think that the Chinese are perfectly capable of delivering their own messages.  What we have been doing, have done and will continue to do is to continue to work with them and work with the Russians and others so that Iran receives a clear, consistent, unmistakable message from the rest of the world.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION:  Considering the fact that if by any chance the (inaudible) decision will take place at the end of January on the beginning of the February and the Iran matter will be sending to the Security Council, the fact that United States will take the presidency of the Security Council on February, what kind of direction you're going to take?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, again, there are a lot of ifs there.  We are not to the point of taking a vote in the Board of Governors to refer Iran to the Security Council, never mind deciding what actions to take in the Security Council.  But as I have said before, those are certainly options, diplomatic options, that are before us.


QUESTION:  Sean, could you give us a bit of a readout of the Secretary's meeting with Foreign Minister Downer, especially on the issue of their presence in Iraq, which is a matter of very contentious issue in Australia, it appears?

MR. MCCORMACK:  They talked about a variety of issues.  The Secretary was very pleased to welcome -- be able to welcome the Foreign Minister to Washington.  He was on a previously scheduled trip to this part of the world.  He was in Mexico and he's also had some further travels in the United States.  The Secretary conveyed the fact that she was disappointed that she was not able to travel to Australia as well as to Indonesia as previously scheduled.   We have -- we are now working with the Australians on some dates to reschedule that stop.

The Foreign Minister and she talked about the fact how they -- talked about the fact that he looked forward to her next visit and to working together to schedule that visit at the earliest possible moment.  They talked about a number of different issues.  They talked about regional issues.  They talked about the East Asia Summit.  They talked about Burma.  They talked about -- they did talk about Iraq and the Australian troop presence in Iraq.  The Secretary thanked Foreign Minister Downer and Prime Minister Howard and the Australian people for all the sacrifices of Australian troops in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan.

Okay.  Louie.*

QUESTION:  One question on Iraq.  In Paul Bremer's new book, he claims that he reached out to certain Administration officials last year -- or two years ago, citing a need for more troops.  Among the people that he spoke to was then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, where he said that he expressed to her his fear that the U.S. had become a "ineffective occupier."  Can you comment on that and can you also comment on whether she expressed to him any comments about troop -- force troop levels at that time?

MR. MCCORMACK:  In terms of any conversations that then-National Security Advisor Rice had in her official capacity, I'm just not going to get into those.  The issue of troop levels in Iraq is one that has been gone over and over and over by others.  I don't have anything to add to it other than to say, as the White House has said on this issue, the President is the ultimate decision-making authority regarding troop levels in Iraq and he gets his advice from his military commanders as to what the appropriate troop levels are.

QUESTION:  Can we move on to Iraq?


QUESTION:  About the preliminary results.  We had a briefing last week saying that they would be ready in three or four or five days and we're now at that stage.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think, you know again, this is going to be something that the IECI puts out these results.  I would expect that it probably wouldn't be this week just because of the Eid so --

QUESTION:  The preliminary results?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Even the preliminary results.  But this is -- it's an Iraqi decision when to put out those results.  I think they're still working through some of the questions that have been raised.  They're doing that in a systematic manner in coordination with some international observers that have also gone into Iraq in reaction to some questions that have been raised.  But I would point out that, in the past, IECI has been very good in working through issues that have been raised about previous votes and previous elections.  I think the consensus in the international community that watches these kinds of things has been that they've done a good job, a job that under difficult circumstances has really met the criteria that has been laid out for them.


QUESTION:  In Iraq, the bloodshed is continuing.  Today, there was again two attack, two suicide bombers, and there is also an helicopter crash.  I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I wouldn't tie those two things together.

QUESTION:  No, but the number of dead is growing and growing and growing.  And you have been saying that U.S., or the coalition, is making progress against insurgency, but apparently it's not the case.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, there are --

QUESTION:  What will you do?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, the President outlined our plan, and Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey and the people that work for them are working hard every single day with their Iraqi counterparts as well as their counterparts in the international community to implement that plan.  And we are on the military front training the Iraqis so that they can take over responsibility for their own security.  The Department of Defense can outline for you the progress that has been made on that front.  But every single day they become more and more capable.

They are taking on those elements of the insurgency that are irreconcilable to the political process:  the Zarqawis of the world, the people that follow him, terrorists.  There are hardcore Baathists, members of the former regime that want to resurrect that regime; it's not coming back.  And those are individuals that need to be dealt with through use of force.  There are others, and as the President has talked about, who are on the fence, who may provide some support in some way for the insurgency.  What we have been trying to do and what Ambassador Khalilzad, what the Iraqis have been trying to do, is to bring those people into the political process, to get them to invest in the political process, to resolve any differences that they may have concerning Iraq's direction through the ballot box as opposed through the use of violence.

We have seen greater participation in these elections.  You've seen the level of participation, including among the Sunnis, increase over time with each progressive election.  And that is progress that you don't necessarily see reported in the wire services, on TV or in your newspapers.

There is, sadly, still violence in Iraq.  I expect that that will continue.  But the way to get Iraq to the point where they have a stable, solid foundation for democracy, for greater prosperity for their people, is to continue to make progress on the political front as well as to fight those irreconcilable elements on the military front.  And we are in making progress in that regard.  That isn't to say that the violence won't continue.  But what we hope, over time, that because of  the progress on the political front as well as on the military front, that you will see a more stable, peaceful and prosperous Iraq.


QUESTION:  Different subject.  Do you have any reaction to the comments by Harry Belafonte in Venezuela?


QUESTION:  None at all?  Do you think this guy should be a goodwill ambassador for the UN?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I don't know.  Maybe he should stick to singing.

We have a couple more here.  Yes, sir.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) from Swiss National Radio.  A Swiss newspaper published yesterday that Swiss intelligence has intercepted a document from the foreign service of Egypt to the Egyptian Embassy in London, confirming or stating the existence of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe.

My question is -- well, first, if it's -- the fact that there has been a leak from the Swiss secret service is a matter of concern of loss of trust, of confidence towards Switzerland; and second, the fact that Switzerland is kind of active on this matter of the alleged CIA secret prison in Europe, is it bothering the -- does it concern, like, a problem in the relationships with the U.S.?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I haven't seen this particular news story.  It sounds like it's a question for Swiss officials concerning leaks.  I don't have anything further to add.

Yes, Joel.

QUESTION:  Sean, do you have any updates on Nepal with King Gyanendra versus the Maoists?

MR. ERELI:  I think we posted it.  Let me check and get back to you.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yes.  Yes, sir.

QUESTION:  Sean, Turkish Chambers of Commerce has already started a new project called Trade -- Industrial Trade Zone Project in Palestine to export textiles and move to the United States and to give more than 10,000 new jobs for Palestinians.  Do you have anything about that?  Any reaction?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'll have to check for you.  I'm not familiar with the program.

QUESTION:  I have one question.

MR. MCCORMACK:  One more.

QUESTION:  Sorry.  The German Chancellor --

MR. MCCORMACK:  You're going to have deal with Charlie.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  The German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview published this weekend that Guantanamo prison shouldn't exist and --

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'm not sure that's exactly what she said, but look --

QUESTION:  Should not continue to exist like that in the long term, she says.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think everybody hopes we get to a point where we don't need facilities like this, but that is -- we are not at that point.  Guantanamo serves a purpose and it's there for a reason.  It keeps people who are very dangerous away from civilized society.  Make no mistake about it; if these people were released, they would be right back in the fight.  We've seen instances of that before.  There is a legal process that is in place to review their -- the circumstances of their detainment.  There is a -- the ability of the International Red Cross to have a 24-hour-a-day presence there.  But Guantanamo Bay serves a purpose.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:33 p.m.)

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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