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State Department Briefing, January 24

24 January 2006

Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Kuwait, Palestinian Authority, Canada, Lebanon, Syria, Haiti, Republic of Congo, Sudan, Cyprus, Venezuela, Russia, Pakistan

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack briefed the press January 24.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
12:43 p.m. EST

Sean McCormack, Spokesman


-- Emergency IAEA Board of Governors Meeting/Referral to the UN Security Council
-- Iran's Failure to Comply With Obligations Under the Nonproliferation Treaty
-- Discussions and Travel by Senior Officials
-- Diplomatic Next Steps/International Community's Efforts
-- Russian Talks with Iran
-- Op-Ed in New York Times on Failure to Engage Iran
-- Reports Georgia Plans to Obtain Gas from Iran

-- Inspector General's Preliminary Report on Iraq Reconstruction

-- Government-organized Protests Against Messages on U.S. Interests Section Billboard

-- Council of Europe Investigation of Renditions/Secret Prisons

-- Reports of Removal by Kuwaiti Parliament of Sheik Saad Al Abdullah Al Sabah as Emir

-- Palestinian Elections/Monitors/U.S. Assistance to Palestinians
-- Prospects for Violence During Election
-- Hamas and Involvement in Government

-- Diversity of State Department's Senior Management Staff/Foreign Service

-- Canadian Election Results
-- U.S. Looks Forward to Working with Stephen Harper
-- U.S.-Canadian Relations

-- Prospects for Secretary Rice Meeting with Lebanese Parilament Member Saad Hariri

-- Syria's Failure to Cooperate Fully with UNIIC Investigation/Comply with UN Resolutions

-- Electoral Process in Haiti/U.S. Support for Electoral Process
-- UN Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti

-- Republic of Congo President Sassou-Nguesso Elected as Chairman of African Union

-- Situation in Darfur/Implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement

-- Turkish Foreign Minister's Proposal

-- Case of Luis Posada Carriles

-- Reported Allegations of NGOs Spying in Russia

-- Secretary Rice's meeting with Prime Minister Aziz
-- U.S.-Pakistan Relations



12:43 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I don't have any opening statements, so I'll be happy to get right into your questions.  Who wants to go first?

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION:  In the (inaudible) you and your European allies, did you talk with the Arab members of the Board of Governors of IAEA?

MR. MCCORMACK:  We -- in Vienna we have a wide ranging effort, diplomatic effort concerning the IAEA Board of Governors, member countries of the IAEA Board of Governors.  Our diplomats on the ground are working very closely with their counterparts in Vienna.  In addition, Under Secretary Joseph, Under Secretary Burns have been on the road.  They're have been talking about this, among other issues.  Deputy Secretary Zoellick talked about this issue in his meetings in Beijing.  So that's just to say there is a global conversation going on regarding Iran's failure to comply with its Nonproliferation Treaty obligations in what the next diplomatic steps will be.  We believe that those next diplomatic steps should be referral to the Security Council, coming out of the next IAEA Board of Governors meeting which is scheduled for February 2nd.  I don't -- I can't detail for you exactly what those contacts are, but we have been reaching out to all the members of the Board of Governors who we think that -- would be open to hearing our point of view.


QUESTION:  Is there a timeline for what happens after the IAEA vote, presuming that that vote is for referral, either one that you already know ahead of time or anything that DOS has suggested as far as when the Security Council takes it up and in what forum?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, right now that's -- I would put that in the category of diplomatic tactics.  And what we have here is a overall approach.  The steps are going from the IAEA Board of Governors, next step the Security Council.  Now, as for what actions the Security Council will take and what the timing of those actions will be, those are matters that are under discussion right now in capitals, you know, between the Secretary and her staff.  So those are things that we're working on right now.  But I don't have an answer for you right now.

QUESTION:  What would you like to see happen?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, that's something that, when we come to an agreement with our partners in the diplomatic process, we'll keep you apprised of.  But at this point, I'm not going to do negotiations from the podium.

QUESTION:  Do you expect that whatever happens, it would be pretty soon after that February 2nd vote?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'm not going to put a particular timeline on things right now.


QUESTION:  Beginning on Iran?


QUESTION:  Russia and China -- Zoellick is in China.  Can you tell us anything about his talks there and whether there's anything to report on the Chinese position on Iran?  And also an Iranian delegation is in Moscow to continue talks on the enrichment program.  Are you looking for Russia to play a role, other than discussing this technical program or would that be progress in itself?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, the -- Deputy Secretary Zoellick, there's a transcript out of his remarks.  He spoke with the press.  I think he spoke at length about this issue.  Very simply, we are engaged with the Chinese Government as we are with other governments concerning this question.  The baseline for all the governments with which we are engaged is that they are very concerned about Iran's actions.  Iran has crossed the line in terms of what -- going back on its obligations regarding the NPT and its agreement with the EU-3.

The other parts of that baseline is that you're not going to find any country that wants to see Iran obtain a nuclear weapon, so everybody's operating from a common baseline, whether that's China or Russia or the Europeans or the United States.  Introduction of a nuclear weapon by Iran into that region would be a destabilizing act.

So where are we?  Where we are right now is trying to find a diplomatic solution to prevent that from happening.  This isn't a matter or rights; it's a matter of obligations.  The Iranian Government has gotten the Iranian people into the position where they are isolated from the rest of the world.  They have raised enough questions through their actions, in the minds of the international community that the international community is on the verge of referring this matter to the Security Council.  That's because Iran has not lived up to its obligations.  The international community has come forward with a variety of proposals that would address Iran's stated desire to have a peaceful nuclear program, while providing the objective guarantees that the international community wants that Iran won't try to use that technology, that know-how, those materials, to try to obtain a nuclear weapon.

So we are all operating off the same common set of ideas and it's a matter now of what the diplomatic tactics are as we move forward.

QUESTION:  Can we talk about those diplomatic tactics in Russia right now?  Are you talking to the Russians about their talks with Iran and emphasizing that you would very much like to see Iran take this deal in order to perhaps avoid the showdown at the Security Council?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I haven't gotten any readout of the discussions between the Iranians and the Russians.  I could only add that the history of those discussions is one of frustration on the part of the Russians.  They have put forward a proposal that, as I described before, would address Iran's stated desire to have peaceful nuclear energy.  And we would question why the need for peaceful nuclear energy, given the fact that Iran is sitting on top of some of the world's largest hydrocarbon reserves, but put that aside, and that would give objective guarantees that would provide the international community some comfort that Iran couldn't use that mechanism to try to obtain a nuclear weapon.

The Russians have talked to the Iranians many, many times before about this.  They have been met with the resistance, flat-out nos, or more interestingly, they've said, well, sure, we'd love to talk about that deal, all the while we continue these activities that are the very source of concern for the international community.  Nice try.  So, yeah, this is all -- the Iranians are doing everything they can to try to avoid being referred to the Security Council.  But they're doing everything they can to cloud the issue.  The one thing they're not doing is taking any actions that would walk back their program from where it is right now.  Where it is right now is one of them getting ready to fire up their centrifuges so they can introduce the UF6, so that they can enrich uranium, so that they can eventually get enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon.  That's what they're doing.  So that's what we're working to try to prevent.

QUESTION:  Is there anything that could happen at this meeting in Russia that would convince the U.S. and the EU to not to call for a referral February 2nd?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Again, we're -- the Secretary has spoken to this.  What the Iranians need to do is to walk back from where they are.  They have not -- they have given no indication that they plan to do this.  And we believe that now is the time to refer them to the Security Council.

QUESTION:  Regardless of what happens in --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yeah, and we believe that now is the time to refer them to the Security Council.

QUESTION:  Change of subject?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Anything else on Iran?  Okay, Dave, on Iran.

QUESTION:  Sean, sort of related.  Flynt Leverett, who's a former National Security Council staffer, writes in a commentary in a major newspaper today, that the Administration seemingly rebuffed overtures for better relations from Iran, including one in 2003 that -- which they were offering to discuss weapons and their support for terrorism, and that there was another one previously where they wanted to talk about Afghanistan.  Do you have anything to say about that?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I didn't -- I saw that the op-ed appeared in the New York Times.  I hadn't read it.  I am -- I'm not aware of any serious efforts that would have allowed the United States or the rest of the world to realize any degree of comfort that the Iranians would follow through on walking back from their nuclear program.  The sort of -- the history of foreign policy is littered with attempts to engage so-called moderates in Iran based on some assurance that they might be able to produce some change in behavior of the Iranian regime.  Well -- and the fact of matter is that those were -- they didn't succeed.  And the reason, the basic reason why, is because the people who were truly controlling the levers of power in Iran weren't the so-called moderates.  President Khatami of Iran was able to provide a soft face to the rest of the world; all the while, Iran continued to pursue its policies of supporting terror, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and oppressing their own people.

What you see now with President Ahmadi-Nejad is really a more accurate reflection of the views of those who truly control the power in Iran.  So again, you know, I didn't read the op-ed so I'm not sure exactly what he's talking about, but I think that what you are seeing now is an accurate reflection of those people with whom the international community is really dealing in Iran and who really control the levers of power in Iran.

QUESTION:  But just one -- he suggests that there was a document passed in early 2003 that essentially, via the Swiss, that essentially it was met with a scold from the United States to the Swiss for passing it on.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Again, I didn't read the op-ed.  I'm not aware of this alleged activity.  But I would only point out that the sort of the history of U.S. foreign policy is, again, littered with these sort of ideas that somehow if you could only engage the so-called moderate forces in Iran, you could somehow bring about a change in behavior.  I think what we're seeing now is really the fact that even though there was this veneer in terms of Iranian behavior that was perhaps a bit more acceptable to the outside world, at its core Iranian behavior has remained the same over the past years.

QUESTION:  Well, second -- that didn't stop the Administration from having discussions with the Iranians in early 2003 -- early 2003.  I think they were the only discussions that the U.S. has had with the Iranians since the revolution except the earliest days of the revolution.  So I don't --

MR. MCCORMACK:  There were meetings within the context of the "6+2" channel, George, in Switzerland.  There have been engagements between Ambassador Neumann and his counterpart concerning Afghanistan.  We have talked about Ambassador Khalilzad and how he has some latitude in dealing with security issues with his counterpart in Iran, to my knowledge, has not taken him up on those offers.  So again, George, you know, you've been here a long time and you know this long history.  But again, I think what we're seeing with President Ahmadi-Nejad is the true reflection of those who actually control the power in Iran.

QUESTION:  Not on Iran?


QUESTION:  Do you have any opinion on Georgia saying that it may be -- it may get gas from Iran now that they're in this dispute?  I think they announced today that -- Georgia announced that Iran has offered to export natural gas to Georgia to help ease the problems there.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I hadn't seen those reports.  I know that they're getting -- Georgia is getting some gas from Azerbaijan.  They're getting some gas from Russia via Azerbaijan.  But I hadn't seen the reports about getting gas from Iran.

QUESTION:  Would it bother you that some countries, including allies like Georgia, would be making new deals with Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Again, I haven't seen the reports.  I'd have to take a look at exactly what it is the Georgians said before I had any comment on it.


QUESTION:  Change of subject, I hope?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I don't know.  Is there anything else?  Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION:  Excuse me.  I thought this was very interesting.  Topic of the day.

QUESTION:  Sean, there's a preliminary report from the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction that criticizes postwar reconstruction, detailing State and DOD conflicts, which I guess is no secret at this point, and bad management.  So do you have any reaction to that report?  And if you haven't seen it, if you can give sort of generally how to move forward on this, now that State is taking over these operations?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I think in the news reports I saw about this, I saw that the Inspector General actually said that they hadn't finished the report --


MR. MCCORMACK:  It was in the draft, so we don't have a copy of the report.  I haven't seen it.  My understand is that the report deals almost exclusively, if not mainly, with the period of time covering the Coalition Provision Authority, which there was -- I believe that there were some USAID-administered money which would have to do with the State Department, but I think that was a relatively small amount.

All of that said, this is -- this report is looking back; it's looking back on the past.  Accountability is, of course, a very important function of our democratic process.  The Inspector General is doing important work.  They should follow the facts wherever they may lead.  But we here at the State Department now are looking forward -- looking forward on ways to make sure that the reconstruction money that the State Department is administering at this time, is spent effectively.  That it is targeted in ways that will make a difference in the Iraqi people's lives.

So that's our focus right now and the Inspector General is doing important work.  That work should continue.  And we'll see what kind of report that he produces as he continues in his work.

QUESTION:  Another subject?


QUESTION:  On the messages -- on the messages in the Cuban embassy, do you have any update on anything -- how the situation is evolving in Havana?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think there was -- I saw on the television that there were some protests down in Havana organized by the Castro regime, monitored by the secret police there.  I find it ironic that they are -- the Cuban Government is organizing these protests against these messages that are being put up on the US Interests Section in Havana concerning -- with quotes "Freedom" from Martin Luther King and other topics.  I don't see why that should be a matter -- such a source of concern for the Cuban Government, but nonetheless they have seen it fit to organize these large protests in -- against, essentially, freedom.  So I think it's more of the same from the Cuban Government.

QUESTION:  Is there any intention to keep them for a long time or permanently or to change the messages or --

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think, as appropriate, they're going to put up messages there.  I don't know if it's going to be on a continuous basis, but the person in charge of the Interests Section down there will make those judgments as to what is appropriate to put up and when to do it.


QUESTION:  A report to the Council of Europe today said that there was convincing proof that Washington used European territories to send detainees to third countries to be tortured.  I wanted to know if you have a comment on that.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think it's the same old reports wrapped up in some new rhetoric.  There's nothing new here; old ground having been plowed.  In the most recent remarks on this topic, the Secretary went through this topic at length during her trip to Europe and she made a few points.

One, the United States does not torture.  We respect the sovereignty of our European friends and allies.  That the United States does not transfer people where they have a reasonable expectation that they might be subjected to torture.  And where there are questions, the United States gets assurances.  And most importantly, the United States and Europe are fighting a common fight against terrorism.  And I think as a result of the Secretary's discussions in Europe, that's what you saw, when we started to cut through some of the more breathless reporting on this topic in some corners that we got down to the core issue.  And the core issue is this, how do free societies fight terrorism when the enemy is living among us?  How do free societies deal with that?  It's a tough problem.

And what the Secretary underlined was the fact that we need to work together to fight that problem.  That we are facing a common threat from this enemy and that the United States and Europe will continue to work together to fight this common enemy.  The United States and Europe, the freedoms that we enjoy in the United States and various countries in Europe, come from a common pool.  We draw upon the same set of ideas.

Now, based on different histories, different developments over time, different cultures, those same values are interpreted in different ways in terms of the law.  You know, what laws are passed by different societies.  The example -- one example is freedom of speech.  In the United States, we adhere to very strong protections under the First Amendment regarding freedom of speech.  In some European countries, there are laws against -- anti-incitement laws.  In the UK, for example, there is the Official Secrets Act that it places some constraints on speech.

Now, I daresay in the United States those restrictions on freedom of speech probably wouldn't be accepted.  But that's not to be critical of the European laws regarding freedom of speech.  It's just that there's a common value there about freedom of speech; how that manifests itself in particular countries through the laws will vary from country to country, but the principle remains the same.

So this is a long way of saying that while there may be some differences in terms of how we deal with these issues, we are fighting the same fight, we share the same core values, and what we need is discussion and dialogue about how to deal with the issues that confront us.

QUESTION:  So if I can follow up, so when you say we work together, we respect the sovereignty, does it imply the European governments were aware?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Again, we've been over this.  We've been over this ad nauseum with me, with the Secretary, with Mr. Ereli.  Like I said, this is more of the same sort of wrapped up in some different bumper sticker rhetoric.

QUESTION:  But the investigation is going on and so it's not going to go away, even if we've talked about it before.

MR. MCCORMACK:  And I'll keep on answering your questions up here to the best of my ability.

QUESTION:  We have to keep at it.  What is -- and I'm sure we've done this before, maybe I've mercifully forgotten some of what we talked about before, but if it's not to torture or to use methods that aren't acceptable on U.S. territory, what is the reason that prisoners would be put in facilities in other countries?  What's useful about that?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Again, you'd have to talk to the various people involved in those -- answering those kinds of questions.  The practice of renditions is one that is accepted, an internationally accepted practice.  Beyond that, I don't have anything to add.

QUESTION:  Well, but if you say it's an internationally accepted practice, I mean, what's the purpose of it?  I mean, if you know --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I'll give you -- the Secretary talked about these -- I'll give you the example of Carlos the Jackal.  This is an internationally wanted terrorist.  He was brought to justice through the use of rendition.  So that's just -- that's one example the Secretary talked about in her trip.  So again, this is something that is recognized as a recognized international practice and it is an important tool in fighting the war against terrorism.

QUESTION:  But I mean, I know you say that these -- you don't send suspects to countries where you believe they'll be tortured, but some of these countries that you're sending them to, in your own Human Rights Report you've criticized them for abusing prisoners; isn't that right?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Like I said, the United States policy is that if there is any question about whether or not somebody is more likely than not to face torture if they are turned over to another country, the United States Government gets assurances that they will not be.

QUESTION:  The other thing that Marty said today, or one of the other things he said, is that the U.S. needs to be prepared to provide answers and that the Europeans -- he criticized them as well -- need to be prepared to ask harder questions.  There was a big deal about questions and answers when this first came up.  Have you now answered any and all of the questions -- or I should say all of the questions that the European countries put to you?

MR. MCCORMACK:  The Secretary -- Foreign Secretary Straw, before the Secretary's last trip to Europe, sent her a letter.


MR. MCCORMACK:  We provided -- tried to provide you with information about that letter.  You, of course, have access to her reply to that letter and then her subsequent discussion of her reply to that letter.  If there are any other questions that may arise from individual governments, I am not aware of those specific questions, but I'm sure that we would endeavor to answer them to the best of our ability.

QUESTION:  Do you think that no countries did pose bilateral questions?  Romania or Poland or the countries that were pinpointed?  You don't know if they --

MR. MCCORMACK:  I don't have any particular information on that.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION:  On Kuwait, the Kuwaiti Government has voted today to oust Emir -- Saad al-Abdullah.  Do you have any comment on this constitutional process?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'll have to check into the details.  I know that this is an important issue that the Kuwaiti people were grappling with.  It's a very difficult issue involving questions of who is going to lead them into the future, questions of succession.  As for the details of it, I'll see if I can get you anything in response to the specific details of that.

QUESTION:  Following on that?


QUESTION:  I think they expelled the Prime Minister immediately afterward, so --

MR. MCCORMACK:  But again, I don't --

QUESTION:  Is that someone with whom you all have had dealings?  Can you --

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'll check for you.

Yes, Elise.

QUESTION:  On the Palestinian elections, does the U.S. have any -- I don't know if you've gone over this before, but does the U.S. have any monitors on the ground tomorrow or have you sent an allegation for any monitors?  And if you could refresh our memory on what kind of assistance you've given the Palestinians as far as election support?

MR. MCCORMACK:  In terms of monitors, I know that there are quite a few election monitors on the ground.  I'll check to see if there are any.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK:  NDI has some monitors on the ground.  In terms of assistance, the USAID has provided a wide variety of assistance to the Palestinians going back to 1993.  I think the figure is $1.7 billion and the --

QUESTION:  For elections?

MR. MCCORMACK:  No, I'm just --

QUESTION:  Oh, okay.  Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK:  No, this is just at large.  We're getting down to the elections part.

QUESTION:  Okay, funnel down?

MR. MCCORMACK:  It's like a funnel, it's going down.  Promoting democratic reform, USAID supports political stability and democratic governance through programs that help bolster the political process, lay the foundations for rule of law and work with them on their justice system, electoral administration.  USAID provides advice to the Central Elections Commission and assists the Commission with providing information to voters, media center operations, and other such things.

Campaign -- they work with -- the USAID works with NGOs in order to strengthen civil society.  They also work with individual candidates in terms of helping them with their campaigning skills, how do you operate in a democratic system and resolve them.  These things all sound rather rudimentary to us, but for people who are just starting to experience democracy and campaigning and voting, these are all important aspects of building those baseline capabilities.


QUESTION:  A follow-up on --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yes, we'll get back to you, Joel.

QUESTION:  Sean, a follow-up on --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Follow up to that.  Okay.  Do you yield the floor (inaudible.)

QUESTION:  Apparently this morning, in Nablus, a Fatah campaign worker, a noted leader, was shot dead after being confronted by two cars with armed gunmen and also, by contrast, a Hamas election worker was slain in Gaza.  Apparently, from what you've just said, this election tomorrow might be tainted by violence and there are already complaints that the so-called permanent ink, which are used on the index finger, wasn't permanent, so when the security guards who are obviously working security tomorrow -- they voted earlier -- complaints that that ink wasn't permanent and there might have already been election fraud.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, in terms of the question on the ink, I hadn't seen that bulletin.  Clearly, we'll be watching how the election process unfolds.  In terms of election -- any violence during the election, is the responsibility of the Palestinian authority to provide a safe and secure environment where people can vote, they can exercise their democratic franchise free from fear that they will be subject to violence.  That's a basic responsibility of any political entity running an election.

And President Abbas has committed himself and the Palestinian Authority to that idea.  He had some strong language concerning how -- the way in which efforts to use violence to disrupt the electoral process would be met.  And we fully support those statements and encourage the Palestinian Authority to act, to see that there is an election that takes place in a safe, secure environment for the Palestinian people.  It's important for them and important for the future of the Palestinian people.

QUESTION:  Did you see in the comments by Hamas (inaudible) yesterday, saying that Hamas could be willing in some circumstances to have negotiations with Israel, but wasn't going to kind of sugarcoat it and say it was going well if it wasn't?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I saw the comments; I don't see how they materially change anything.  Hamas still has a charter that calls for the elimination of Israel; that calls for the armed struggle; the use of terror and violence.  Those are things that are diametrically opposed from where the Palestinian people want to head.  They want to head in the direction of their own state, a two-state solution in which they live side by side in peace and security with the Israeli people.  The only way to get to that -- to get to that end state is through the negotiating table -- over the negotiating table, not at the end of a gun.

QUESTION:  Right.  But he just said he was going to negotiate.  That they might be willing to negotiate and it does mean --

MR. MCCORMACK:  As far as I --

QUESTION:  -- to me, a softening of the position, as opposed to saying we're going to blow them up; we would be willing to talk to you.

MR. MCCORMACK:  As far as I know, nothing has changed with respect to Hamas.  It's still a terrorist organization and we consider it such.

QUESTION:  Can I just follow on that?


QUESTION:  Are you encouraged at all by some other statements from Hamas leaders that they would be willing to take only the sort of lower level or service-related ministries and leave the more political ones to Fatah?

MR. MCCORMACK:  We'll wait to see how the elections turn out and what government emerges as a result of these elections.  Before that happens, I'm not going to try to prejudge what possible permutations of a government might possibly exist.

What we have said, and you heard it from the Secretary yesterday, is that it's only logical that in order to move forward on a process where the Palestinians realize a state that you have to have a negotiating partner that is committed to negotiating in an atmosphere free from violence and that renounces the idea that it wants to eliminate the existence of the parties sitting across the table.  I think that that only stands to reason.  So we'll see what the election brings tomorrow.  It's an important moment for the Palestinian people and we'll see what the results are.

QUESTION:  A different --

QUESTION:  I'm sorry.

QUESTION:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  No, I had a different subject.

QUESTION:  Oh, same subject.  Given that you don't want to speculate on the future without the results yet, are reports true that Secretary Rice -- if not herself, then Abrams -- who else was on that trip?


QUESTION:  Yeah, David Welch.  I'm sorry.  Would have assured Israel that the United States would not deal with any -- with the Palestinian Authority, with a wider Palestinian Government, if Hamas are members since you said --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, what we have said is that we do not deal with Hamas.  It hasn't changed.  There are, at this point, no plans for that to change.  We don't -- there are elected members of Hamas, I believe, in some city councils.  We do not deal with those members of Hamas.

And again, we'll see what happens in the elections and then, as a result of the elections, what government is formed and what policies that government pursues.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So you would think it's inaccurate that reports say that Israel has already been assured, without any results from the elections, that you will not deal with those governments?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Again, I can restate, Hamas is a terrorist organization.

QUESTION:  It hasn't gone further than that.


MR. MCCORMACK:  We don't deal with Hamas.  Certainly that has been made clear in public and private to a variety of interlocutors.  And I'm sure, although I don't have a first-hand account of Elliott and David's conversations with the Israeli Government, I'm sure that they conveyed that same message.


QUESTION:  A different subject.  The Secretary had a call for greater diversity within the Foreign Service in her remarks last week.


QUESTION:  But if the tally, I guess in the Post yesterday is right, there are fewer than six minorities among the -- at the assistant secretary level and above.  Is that correct and is there any effort to broaden that within her own administration?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Three things:  One, I haven't done a tally, so I can't tell you exactly among the assistant secretary level and above what the demographic composition is with that group.  One basic point, just factual point for you, in terms of the last four years -- this is regarding the State Department -- minority hires have increased from 14 percent of all Foreign Service generalists, Foreign Service officers, to 21 percent.  And currently, 17 percent of our Foreign Service generalists and 21 percent of our Foreign Service specialists are minorities.  These are at record high levels.  And so those are just a couple factual things.

Now, about the issue of the Secretary's senior management staff, she has been Secretary of State for just right around a year, and she believes -- that is, you have heard from her in public - that the State Department that represents the American people should look more like America and that she views that as a strength.  She believes that a Foreign Service that looks more like America from top to bottom is a positive thing for the United States and it's a positive example for the rest of the world -- other governments that deal -- that have to deal with these kinds of issues, issues of race or ethnicity or equal opportunities for women.

I can only say that if you look at Secretary Rice's career in running organizations, large organizations, looking at whether that's Stanford or the National Security Council, that she has left behind organizations that look much more like America than they did before she started.  And she is very proud of that record and that is a record that she intends to replicate when she leaves the State Department about three years from now.

QUESTION:  Change of subject?  Any parting words for Paul Martin?

MR. MCCORMACK:  You caught me off guard there for a second.

QUESTION:  He's not dead.  But he's gone. 

MR. MCCORMACK:  Shocking.  You know, the Canadian elections have taken place.  The Canadian people have spoken, and the -- I believe that there's going to be a new government in Canada led by Mr. Harper.  We look forward to working with Mr. Harper and his government, just as we would look forward to working with all -- any Canadian government.  Canada is a good friend, a good friend and ally, and we look forward to strengthening our already strong bonds, and that we certainly wish Mr. Martin well.  I believe that he's going to continue to participate in political life.  We had a good working relationship with the Prime Minister.  The Secretary went to Ottawa just a short time ago, a couple months ago.  She had good meetings with him there.  And that certainly his voice will continue to be heard in Canada.

QUESTION:  But the new government is already -- has already spoken openly about trying to improve relations with the United States, not that they're not great, but that of course you can always improve, right?  So is that something that you believe will happen, that these already strong bonds will be strengthened with Mr. Harper's arrival?

MR. MCCORMACK:  You know, again, we look forward to working with -- working with the new government.  If there are opportunities to work on areas, resolve areas of disagreement, of course we look forward to doing that.  That's something that we worked with Prime Minister Martin's government on as well.  In any relationship that's this close and this important, you're going to have areas of disagreement.  We talk in an open manner about those areas of disagreement.  We talk in an atmosphere of mutual respect about those areas of disagreement.

And I expect that over the coming months and years there are going to be issues which we can work well with the Canadian Government on and there are going to be areas where we continue to have differences.  So we'll see.  We look forward to working with Mr. Harper's government and look forward to building on the already strong foundation that we have.

QUESTION:  Do you think the missile defense question may be reopened under a Harper government?

MR. MCCORMACK:  We'll see.  We think that, you know, our views -- our views on missile defense cooperation are well known.  If it's something that the Canadian Government wants to talk about, I think of course we'd be open to talking about it.

QUESTION:  Would you initiate that in any way or ask for a reconsideration?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'm not sure that it's something that we would raise.  I think we certainly remain open to talking about that as well as other issues.


QUESTION:  President Bush will meet on Friday with Lebanon member of parliament Saad Hariri.  Is Secretary Rice expecting to meet with Mr. Hariri and can you tell us anything about this visit and the timing of it?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I believe -- I have to check her schedule, but I believe she is going to be meeting with him.  I'll double-check that for you.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Can I have one more question?


QUESTION:  President Assad of Syria gave an important speech, I think last Friday, and he said he will not allow any demarcation of borders between Syria and Lebanon because this will serve the interests of Israel.  And another issue, he said that he will not accept giving an interview to the UN investigating team in the assassination of Hariri because the sovereignty of Syria, as he said, is more important than or beyond any resolution from the Security Council.  Do you have any reaction to this?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, on the second of those, 1636, which compels Syria to cooperate with the UNIIC investigation, is a Chapter 7 resolution.  What that means is it is required -- it's not optional -- for states under Chapter 7 resolutions to comply with the terms of those resolutions.  We continue to urge Syria to comply with all aspects of 1636 and 1595.  To date, they have not fully cooperated.  That is, I believe, a source of disappointment, shall I say, among the members of the international community.

Syria has also failed to comply with all aspects of Resolution 1559.  There was just yesterday a statement from the Presidency of the UN Security Council on this matter in which they continue to urge Syria to comply with all aspects of Resolution 1559.

So what this does is it paints a picture of a regime that is out of step not only with the rest of the region and where it's headed, but with the rest of the world.  So we would urge the Syrian regime to change its behavior, to comply with UN Security Council resolutions, and also to comply with the wishes of fellow leaders in the region.  One example is President Abbas.  President Abbas has asked President Assad to close down the offices of those Palestinian rejectionist groups headquarted in Damascus.  He hasn't done so.  As a matter of fact, he's done just the opposite.  He hosted the Iranian President -- or allowed the Iranian President to have a meeting with him in Damascus.  So, not only does this contravene the requests of the international community as well as the UN Security Council, but it also goes against the wishes of a fellow leader in the region.

So, just to -- all of this underlines the same point that this is a regime completely out of step with where the rest of the region and the world is headed.


QUESTION:  The election in Haiti scheduled on February the 7th, and there are a few stories in the media saying that U.S. maybe should have been more implicated in the process, especially should have sent some troops there to assure security?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Right.  You know, I'm not sure who specifically is saying these things.

QUESTION:  The Washington Post and the New York Times.

MR. MCCORMACK:  The editorial boards?

QUESTION:  (Laughter.)  There is at least one story in the New York Times, which I have for that.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Okay.  Are there any particular people who are saying these things or is this part of what I refer to as the "do something" crowd in Washington?

QUESTION:  And there was an editorial --

MR. MCCORMACK:  And they always suggest a problem, but don't actually come up with any realistic answers.  The fact of the matter is that the United States has been deeply involved in pushing this electoral process forward.  The Assistant Secretary Shannon was just in Haiti several days ago to participate in a meeting of the core group countries.

This has been on the Secretary's radar screen for months.  She has been involved in this issue.  The other countries -- other important countries in the hemisphere have been deeply involved in this issue, whether it was Canada or Brazil, providing leadership and forces on the ground in Haiti or the European -- the -- excuse me, the Organization of American States or the UN.  They've all been deeply involved in helping the Haitian people turn the page on what has been a dark chapter in their history.

Just for example, I'll point out to you that we have provided $30 million to support the electoral process, including support to the provisional electoral council and international, domestic observers.  I can go down the list for you, detailing how this money was spent.

I also point out that initially, U.S. troops were in Haiti.  There was an immediate crisis point.  The United States responded.  We handed off that mission to MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping operation led by a Brazilian commander.  We believe that the 7500-strong MINUSTAH forces are doing a good job.  That isn't to say that there are not problems where security -- there are not areas where security is an issue.  There are some areas where security is an issue, in particular, some areas of Port-au-Prince, one that I think is well-known, it's been reported on Cite Soleil, where people live in conditions that we can't even imagine here in the West.

And MINUSTAH has been doing a good job in protecting those forces, protecting the Haitian people, and working to provide an atmosphere where the Haitian people can vote and use the ballot box to put people in power who will respond to their needs.  The Canadian Government has led a police training effort.  They have made a lot of progress.  There's a lot more to do.

The problems in Haiti didn't develop overnight and it is going to take some time for the Haitian people to turn the corner.  The international community has been with them and will continue to be with them as they increasingly take more responsibility for building a better future for themselves.\

But yes, I take issue with this idea that somehow the United States has not been deeply involved or -- and deeply concerned about what has been going on in Haiti.  We have been and will continue to be.

QUESTION:  And what do you make of the calls to send troops over there to --

MR. MCCORMACK:  U.S. troops?

QUESTION:  To help, yes, toward security.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think I made clear that we believe MINUSTAH is doing a good job.  We don't think -- we don't see the need for U.S. troops there.

QUESTION:  On the AU election, I guess you call it, I don't know -- Congo has decided to take over now and then Sudan a year from now.  Is that a solution that you don't feel poses a contradiction?  Do you think that there's possible -- that it's possible there will be enough progress in Darfur in the next year that Sudan could --

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, let's look --

QUESTION:  -- (inaudible) the president?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, let's all hope.  We believe that the decision that the AU leadership arrived at is positive.  They arrived at a positive outcome.

They were confronted with a fundamental contradiction, I guess you could say, and they found a way to resolve it.  And we certainly support this decision, but I have to underline that it was a decision by the AU.

As for Darfur, we are working as best we can with the AU, with other members of the international community to try to find solutions to the grave problems in Darfur, the humanitarian crisis, the security issues.  But fundamentally, we are concentrating on implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  That's going to be very, very important.  Also, moving forward the Abuja process.  That process needs to have the full energies of all the parties to move it forward, because you can work to address the humanitarian situation to alleviate the immediate suffering, you can work to address the security concerns so that women and girls don't have to fear leaving the camps to go collect firewood.

But ultimately, the solution to the situation in Darfur and Sudan is going to be through a political process and that's -- we are working very hard on that.  Secretary Rice has been there.  Deputy Secretary Zoellick is deeply involved in this issue as well.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION:  On Cyprus, Mr. McCormack, what is the U.S. reaction to the new Turkish initiative called "Action Plan," solution to the Cyprus problem, delivered today to the international community in general by the Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, keeping into consideration that there is no single proposal for the removal of the Turkish invasion occupation forces from the island after 32 years and constitute a process from the de facto to de jure recognition of the so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus?"

MR. MCCORMACK:  I believe that Foreign Minister Gul just made this announcement today.  We have just seen the details of this.  I think we have to study it, but our position remains clear.  We support the international community coming to a solution based on the Annan plan.  We are going to be -- we continue to be open to working together with the UN Secretary General on this issue and that, in terms of efforts to try to move towards some kind of settlement, certainly, this is a welcome step.  I can't comment on the specifics of it, but again, this -- in order to arrive at a solution to this longstanding problem, it's going to require the energies of good faith and good faith of all the parties involved.

And we believe that Secretary General Annan had a plan and that there is potential solution based on that plan, but the parties need to focus their energies on coming to a solution if the people of the region are going to realize a resolution to this conflict.

QUESTION:  Do you know when Deputy Assistant Secretary Matt Bryza is going to revisit the Republic of Cyprus?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I don't.

QUESTION:  And now, Sean, a pending question, any answer to my pending question about the agreement between Russia and Turkey for a joint naval force in the Black Sea to fight terrorism which I raised yesterday?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Okay.  We're still checking into those reports.

QUESTION:  And the last, final question.  Anything on the U.S. delegation for the funeral of Ibrahim Rugova of Kosovo that is coming Thursday?

MR. MCCORMACK:  That would be a White House call and any announcements on that would come out of the White House.

QUESTION:  Thank you.


QUESTION:  This is a new topic, on Luis Posada Carriles.  His lawyers are saying that they are trying to get him out of the country pending the resolution of his case and that -- suggested that there could be talks between the U.S. and third party countries on taking him.  Are you in discussions with any countries about moving him to another country?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'll check to see where his case stands.  I don't have any details for you.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yes, Dave.

QUESTION:  Sean, the spy scandal that we're seeing in the press between Russia and Britain having to do with the hollowed out stones and whatever, there's a lot of apprehension in the NGO community in Russia because of reports implicating them in the Russian media in this -- in the activities of these alleged spies, and they think they're being set up by the Russian Government.  Some of them are among the more irritating to the Putin government.  I was wondering whether this has gotten to the level of where it's of American concern.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, we have previously expressed our concerns about the recent law signed by President Putin that would, in some ways, regulate the actions and presence of some NGOs in Russia.  As for this particular series of news stories with these allegations of spying, I don't have anything for you on that.

QUESTION:  On Russia, also a State Department question?


QUESTION:  Since we sort of track what's happening to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, are you aware of reports that he's been moved into solitary confinement for receiving documents that relates to what inmates' rights are in Russia?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I hadn't seen those reports.


QUESTION:  Sean, could you give us an update on the Secretary's talks with the Prime Minister of Pakistan this morning at Blair House and whether -- are we getting any close to getting Pakistan as well as Afghanistan to help in eradicating al-Qaida and Taliban from the border areas?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, the Secretary met with Prime Minister Aziz in preparation for the Prime Minister's meeting with the President, which has already happened.  I believe the President has already commented on their meeting so I don't think I have anything to add.  The basic topics they talked about -- they talked about the issues you might expect:  U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relations, issues in the region and our common fight against terror. 

QUESTION:  He made a speech -- the Prime Minister made a speech yesterday and spoke a lot about how Pakistan is an anchor of peace and stability in the region and that it wants to take a greater role not only in the region but of world affairs.  He seemed to suggest that they could take a greater role in resolving the situation and asked for U.S. support in terms of developing the infrastructure and capability needed to become this anchor of peace and stability.

Do you see -- I mean, I know you've talked about the relationship with Pakistan and your cooperation, but do you see an expansion of the relationship in the near future along the lines of the kind of strategic partnership that you have with India and cooperation on technology fields?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, a couple things.  We've talked a lot about de-hyphenating the --

QUESTION:  I understand.

MR. MCCORMACK:  You know, those relationships.  You know, we have excellent relationships with Pakistan.  We have an excellent relationship with India.  So we view those two relationships as separate.

We have a fundamentally different relationship with Pakistan than we had five years ago and part of that, one of the turning points in that relationship, if you go back, was President Musharraf's decision to join the United States and the rest of the international community in fighting terror.  And he has remained true to that commitment and he has also laid out a vision for a different kind of Pakistan and he is undertaking efforts to bring about some fundamental changes in Pakistan and to integrate Pakistan into the world economy as well as in other areas.  He is talking about fundamental reforms in the area of education.  Certainly we encourage those efforts and we have a very good relationship with Pakistan in fighting the war on terror and a variety of other aspects.  We're working on developing our bilateral economic ties as well.

So I expect that those are going to be areas that we continue to talk about and that the prospects for broadening and deepening the U.S.-Pakistani relationship across a wide spectrum of issues is -- the prospects for that are excellent.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) resulting from the incident on January 13th along the border involving the deaths of a number of Pakistani civilians, has this not had a negative impact on the relationship?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I think, George, what I heard in the meeting with the Secretary was a resolve that it was important to stand firm in fighting terror and that al-Qaida and the Taliban are common enemies of Pakistan, the United States as well as other countries in the region; and that we are determined in our efforts to stand together to ensure that there are no safe havens for al-Qaida, there are no safe havens for the Taliban.  Pakistan has a great interest in a secure, safe, peaceful Afghanistan, and we share that goal.  And what I think you have seen over the past several weeks is a restatement of those principles that we are going to work together to fight this common enemy because it is a threat to Pakistan. The al-Qaida has made two or more attempts on the life of President Musharraf and obviously we understand the loss of life inflicted by al-Qaida on American citizens quite well.  So this is a common enemy.  And what I heard in that meeting was a resolve to continue to fight that common enemy.

QUESTION:  Did Nick Burns say much about this in his meetings?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I haven't talked to Nick.  He's getting back, I think, today.

QUESTION:  And you don't know if it came up?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Don't know.  Like I said, I haven't talked to him.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:43 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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