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State Department Briefing, February 8

08 February 2006

Nepal, Israel/Palestinians, Syria/Iran

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack briefed the press February 8.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
2:40 p.m. EST

Sean McCormack, Spokesman

-- Nepal Municipal Elections/Hollow Attempt to Legitimize Power/Detaining of Political Activists/Call to Initiate Dialogue

-- Palestinian Election/Government Formation/State Entities to Make Own Decisions/Formation Process Moving Forward/Government as Partner in Peace/Quartet and International Requirements/Aid Programs
-- State Sponsor of Terror Requirements/Recognition of the State of Israel, Renunciation of the Use of Terror and Turning Away from Violence
-- Support of the Interim Government and Efforts of President Abbas/Humanitarian Need/Coming to Some Peaceful Accommodation with the Israeli People Palestinian Law and Overseeing of Certain Aspects of the Palestinian Authority/Security Issue/Gaza Access in Movement Agreement Implementation/Implementation of Existing Agreements
-- Seated Palestinian Legislative Council
-- Meeting with Foreign Minister Livni
-- Statements by International Community

-- Muslim Cartoons/Violent Protests and Assistance of the Government/Burning of Embassies/Use of Current Situation to Incite Individuals to Violence/Qualitative Difference than Other Places
-- Muslim Cartoons/Iranian Newspaper is Government Entity/Former Mayor of Tehran and Thoughts Regarding Holocaust/Human Rights Report



2:40 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK:  Good afternoon.  Thanks, everybody, for sticking with me.  I know this is kind of a late briefing.

QUESTION:  We're here for you, Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I appreciate that, Peter.  I'm here for you.


MR. MCCORMACK:  I have one opening statement regarding the Nepal Municipal elections.  The United States believes Nepal's Municipal elections called by the King today represented a hollow attempt to legitimize power.  There was a clear lack of public support for these elections.  Voter turnout in the capital is estimated under 25 percent.

Outside Kathmandu, turnout was reportedly half that level in some places.  The Government detained large numbers of political activists before the elections, restricted media, and refused to allow independent outside monitors.  Maoist intimidation and the killing of candidates during the campaign marred the vote.  There is no political cause that justifies the use of violence.

The only effective way to deal with the threat posed by Maoists is to restore democracy in Nepal.  We call upon the King to release all political detainees and initiate a dialogue with the political parties.  His continuing refusal to take these steps is leading his country further down the path of violence and disorder.

And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.  Barry.

QUESTION:  Nothing.

MR. MCCORMACK:  You've got nothing?  Okay.  All right.

We'll go to Matt.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Just touching on some of the conversations that the Secretary had with Minister Livni, two specific points.

The question was asked this morning and I'd like to be very clear on it, does the United States have a plan with Israel for what they're going to do if Hamas does come to power?  That's the first thing.  And the second thing is that the Minister Livni said very clearly that Israel has the moral and legal right to withhold customs and remittances from the Palestinians if Hamas should take government.

Does the United States agree with this position?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, first of all, one point of principle.  Each state entity is going to have to make its own decisions if, in fact, a Hamas government comes about.  We are waiting to see the outcome of the government formation process, which should begin in -- I believe next week.  I think the plan is to have the new Palestinian legislative council be seated and from that point on, the government formation process moves forward.

As the Secretary pointed out, we have -- we retain hope that there will be a government that could be a partner in the peace process.  The Quartet has laid out very clearly what those -- what the requirements for that would be.  The Secretary repeated them.  Foreign Minister Livni alluded to them in her remarks.

Let's be clear.  Hamas is a terrorist organization.  We don't deal with terrorists.  So, at this point in time, it is up to Hamas to make some decisions.  We believe that the Palestinian people have voted over the course of the past year not only for good governance and cleaning out corruption, but also for peace.  And we would call upon Hamas to meet the requirements of the Palestinian people, and those requirements are for a peaceful solution with two states living side by side in peace and security.

So as for what our assistance to -- what our aid programs might be to a new government, that will be determined upon whether or not the new government fulfills the requirements as outlined by the Quartet.  So we'll see.  It is up -- at this point, a decision for Hamas to make whether or not it is going to meet the requirements of the international community.

The Secretary emphasized the fact that we call upon the international community to work with this interim government.  We have seen that.  Israel took the decision to pass along those tax receipts back to the interim government.  We welcome that decision but it was a decision made by the Israeli Government and consistent with the call of the Quartet.

Now, as for future actions, again, the Quartet outlines that each state will have to look at its own assistance and aid programs against the backdrop of whether or not the new government has fulfilled the requirements as outlined by the Quartet.

QUESTION:  Can I just follow up on that?  Because I know the Quartet statement was very clear about aid, but we're talking, I think, about a different entity when we talk about customs and other remittances that are collected on behalf of the Palestinians and that properly belong to the Palestinian entities.  So my question is:  Does the United States believe that Israel has the legal and moral obligation, as Minister Livni said, to withhold those from a Hamas government?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think she outlined very clearly Israel's position on that matter.  And what we believe is up to each state to make its own decisions about its actions based on what Hamas has or has not done to fulfill the requirements of the Quartet.

QUESTION:  So you support their right to do that?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Again, what we have said very consistently and when this question came up prior to Israel taking this decision, we said that it is up to each individual state to make its decisions about these matters about how it would interact, and part of that would be providing aid -- assistance to a Palestinian Authority.  It's up to each individual country to make those decisions.  Again, we would call upon them to look at the requirements as outlined in the Quartet statement in making those decisions.



QUESTION:  The Minister said that a Hamas-led government not meeting those requirements would in fact become a terrorist state and would be subject to international sanctions.  Does the United States agree with this position and is the United States prepared to treat a Hamas-led government as a state sponsor of terrorism with all the penalties that apply under U.S. law?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, let's see what new government we have to deal with and what policy platform that government decides to pursue.  We don't know what the government will look like.  We don't know what the policies are that this government will follow.  We are hopeful, as the Secretary said, that Hamas, which will likely lead a new Palestinian government, or at least be part of a new Palestinian government, will take the decisions to abide by the requirements as outlined by the international community.  So we'll see.  We still retain hope that they can make those decisions to follow the call of the international community.  So we'll see.

QUESTION:  But can -- if I could follow up.  But the conditions set forth by the Quartet and the United States, those three requirements, are different than the requirements to designate a state under state sponsors of terrorism.  I mean, a state that supports acts of terrorism is different than a state that doesn't necessarily recognize another state.  So which will you be guided by?  Will you be guided by those requirements or by U.S. obligations under the state sponsor of terrorism statute?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, of course, if course -- if that does come about, the lawyers will have to take a look at the law and see how the law racks up against the policies and the legal framework under which that authority is constituted.  So that, I think, is a question for the lawyers.  The state sponsor of terror requirements are outlined under the law so I would assume if that eventuality does come about, the lawyers will take a look at it.

QUESTION:  When the United States, as part of the Quartet, outlines the conditions for dealing with Hamas -- there's several, but often, when there's a more shorthand declaration or remarks about those conditions, it boils down to just one.  There's more emphasis on Hamas having to recognize Israel.  Is it that that's your top condition or your first condition?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think I'll -- I wouldn't put them in any rank order.  I think taken collectively, those are the minimum standards that would have to be met; include recognition of the State of Israel, renunciation of the use of terror, turning away from violence.  And also, part of that is meeting the obligations that the previous Palestinian Authority had signed up to, which includes the roadmap.  That includes, as a subset, the dismantling of terrorist organizations and militias.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So --

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'm not going to -- I wouldn't try to pick out one of those requirements as solely required.  I think you have to look at them collectively.

QUESTION:  So, can you explain why there is this emphasis?  I ask because the Secretary today seemed to follow the same path as President Bush has, which is, when first outlining the conditions -- she listed them all and then, but when she referred to it later, it was just the one, recognizing Israel.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Again, we're -- I don't think she's trying to single out one as entirely sufficient in its own right.  I think that just logically, if you're going to have a partner for peace and a partner that you -- with whom -- with which you might work in implementing the roadmap, you have to logically assume that the entity sitting across the table recognizes your right to exist, so -- you know, if anything, I think that it's just a matter of logic is all.  But she's -- we're not trying to single out one particular requirement from them.

QUESTION:  Is that requirement considered the easiest one for Hamas to accept?

MR. MCCORMACK:  You know, Saul, you would have to ask them what their views are in terms of how easy it would be to meet any of those requirements.  Certainly, it requires the will to do so and the will to follow through with actions, but you would have to ask them how they would view those requirements.


MR. MCCORMACK:  Yes, Barry.

QUESTION:  So, Israel doesn't have a negotiating partner?  The U.S. fully understands why Israel can't talk to Hamas.  The U.S. doesn't want Israel to do anything unilaterally.  I'm talking about her reference to retaining settlements, drawing borders, et cetera.  So, I'm kind of wondering, does this mean that the U.S. is settling down for a long period of nothing happening or are there some things which we haven't heard about that could profitably be done in the interim while you wait to see how the Palestinian situation works itself out?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I think a couple of things, Barry.  One, we'll continue to support the interim -- this interim government and the efforts of President Abbas.  We'll make very clear to the Palestinian people that we understand there are certain humanitarian needs.  We're going to look at those as -- on a case-by-case basis.  I think that what we will -- what we have tried to do and the international community has tried to do is make it clear to Hamas that they face a choice, not only from the international community, but also in fulfilling the aspirations of the Palestinian people and their desire for peace and to -- coming to some sort of peaceful accommodation with the Israeli people and the State of Israel.

We retain the hope that there will be, in fact, a partner for peace on the Palestinian side, once a new government is formed.  There currently is, so we'll see what decisions the Hamas leadership makes in this regard.  But what we are concentrating on now is sending as clear and unified a message as possible to the Palestinian people and the leadership of Hamas that there are certain choices that they face.

QUESTION:  But you're also making, I think, some security -- you're looking into security.  You have a security problem to keep an eye on, don't you?  I mean, the U.S. has provided advice, whatever, even maybe suggestions, strong recommendations on security.  What troubles me is that I just don't understand, because it's kind of a unique situation.

I mean, how you can -- how the U.S., even in a minimal way, can take steps jointly with a president or the leader of a Palestinian group -- of the Palestinians who is not long for being the leader of the Palestinian group.  It doesn't -- the agreement wouldn't have any -- what's the word -- any standing.  It would be erased.  It would become certainly reviewable.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, the -- don't want to get into a dissection of Palestinian law, but the Palestinian President does, under Palestinian law, retain some powers and privileges and rights to oversee certain aspects of the Palestinian Authority.  We have yet to see what arrangements, what accommodations will be made for a new government.  That is an unknown at this point.

But certainly, security is going to be an important issue.  I think that that's an issue of concern shared by a number of entities in the region, including the Egyptian Government.  So, we're talking to them about those issues.  We're also talking to the EU as part of the Gaza Access in Movement Agreement implementation.

You heard the Secretary talk about the fact that we have discussed with the Israeli Government a number of different issues regarding implementation of existing agreements.  So, at this point, Barry, the -- what might happen once a new Palestinian government is formed is an open question, only because we don't know what that government's going to look like and what the policies are that they are going to pursue.


QUESTION:  I'd like to follow up on that.


QUESTION:  I heard the Secretary saying today -- was talking about these requirements for a new Palestinian government.  She didn't say this was the requirements for Hamas as a political party or as a party, as an organization to change its charter.  Is the U.S. backing off from those calls?  Is it enough for just whoever they put in place to renounce violence and do these things or are you still demanding that Hamas, as an organization, change its charter?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, presumably, this is going forward from the presumption that Hamas would be the government in the Palestinian Authority.  I think that that is the likely outcome of the discussions concerning formation of a government.  So again, with respect to Hamas, our views are clear.  It's a terrorist organization and the requirements that we have outlined apply to whatever Palestinian government comes next.


QUESTION:  (Inaudible) general set of issues on security.  What's the status of General Dayton?  Is he still there?  Is he working with Palestinian security?  Is he back?

MR. MCCORMACK:  He's still -- I'll have to check for you, Charlie, whether he is actually in the States or in the region.  I know he was in the region recently.  He continues to work on issues related to implementation of the Access in Movement Agreement, specifically on the Rafah crossing and making that work.  So, that involves talking to the Egyptians, the Israelis, as well as the Palestinians.  I'll check to see what his most recent trip was out there, Charlie, and what -- the most recent set of discussions that he's had and with whom.

QUESTION:  And also as a corollary to that, what's the status of Mr. Wolfensohn and whether the Quartet, since you're a member of the Quartet, would expect his role to end if and when there is a Hamas-led government?

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'll check on that, Charlie.  I'll see what he's done most recently.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION:  Earlier, you mentioned that the government formation process was going to begin next week with the legislature.  Do you have a sense beyond that as to how long it's going to take the Palestinians to form their government?

MR. MCCORMACK:  It could begin next week.  It depends -- you're going to have the Palestinian Legislative Council seated.  And at that point, whether or not a prime minister candidate is put forward and whether or not a platform for a future government is put forward are open questions.

So, the more accurate way that I could put it is, it could -- the government formation process could actually start in earnest next week.  It could also start at a later date.  You would still have the PLC seated, but the government formation process might actually take a little bit longer.  So, it'll depend on decisions on the part of President Abbas, as well as the incoming -- the leadership of the incoming government, which is likely Hamas.

QUESTION:   (Inaudible.)  Because last week, Jimmy Carter was raising concerns that some of these newly-elected Hamas officials -- that Israel wouldn't let them travel during this new parliament and I wonder if that issue came up today with Foreign Minister Livni.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Not that I'm aware of, but the Secretary and the Foreign Minister spent, I would say, the majority portion of their meeting time just one-on-one, just the two of them.


QUESTION:  New topic?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Sure.  Wait a minute.  Rosen in the back.  What are you doing way in the back?  You're supposed to be up here.

QUESTION:  I defer to my smarter and lovelier colleague and try to spare you from having to see me too closely.

Secretary Rice mentioned in the briefing today that the United States is working hard with the Palestinians' neighbors to support the near-term needs of the caretaker government.  And I wondered if we are similarly working with Palestinians' neighbors to have them exert some influence on Hamas in the direction that we would like Hamas to go.  Can you tell us anything about that?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, you've seen the Quartet statement.  I think you have seen some statements from the Egyptian Government calling upon Hamas to meet the international requirements that were laid out before it.  I don't have -- I can't detail any particular discussions for you, James, but we have encouraged all to look at the Quartet statement and send a clear message to Hamas that they have to meet those requirements.

QUESTION:  If you're talking about the unified message from the international community, I wonder if the Arab community is, to our satisfaction, part of that unified message.

MR. MCCORMACK:  We've seen some helpful statements thus far, but how they choose to convey this message, I think should be up to the discretion of these governments, whether they do it privately or whether they do it in public.  Certainly public statements of support for what the Quartet has asked are, you know, obviously positive, but whether or not the message gets conveyed in public or private, I think at the end of the day is not as important as the fact that it just be conveyed.

QUESTION:  It sounds like you want them to do more.

MR. MCCORMACK:  We encourage all to do everything they can to send a clear message and to follow the requirements of the Quartet statement.

Okay.  Anything else on this?  Okay, we'll go to Joel and then we'll come up here.  Sure.

QUESTION:  Sean, earlier today the international observer mission headquarters in Hebron were attacked by Palestinians, whether it be because of the Danish cartoon crisis, but nonetheless did Foreign Minister Livni discuss this with the Secretary in her meeting?  Who has the responsibility to quell that?  And foreigners were forced from Hebron.

Also, earlier today a 93,000-ton cargo ship is blocking the Suez Canal.  They say it's weather.  Have you confirmed with the Egyptian Government indeed was it weather or was this some type of deliberate intention to block the canal?

MR. MCCORMACK:  On the first, I don't -- at least in the part of the conversation I was in on, that particular incident didn't come up.  I'd be happy to look into and see if there's anything we have to share with you.

On the ship, I hadn't heard about it.  I don't have anything for you on it.


QUESTION:  Do you speak with the neighbors of the Palestinians about the need to maybe fund or help funding the Palestinian Authority in case of a suspension of the Quartet aid?

MR. MCCORMACK:  You mean in this interim period?

QUESTION:  No, after the interim period.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Afterwards?

QUESTION:  Do you speak with them about that?  They could fill in and maybe avoid Iran to get into --

MR. MCCORMACK:  The only conversations about which I'm aware are conversations encouraging other governments and entities to assist this interim government.  I'm not aware of any conversations about -- concerning assistance for a new Palestinian government.


QUESTION:  This is a new topic.  There are some reports that you are looking for the Iraqis to handle criminal charges against a U.S. citizen being held in Iraq and suspected of aiding the insurgency named Shawqi Omar.


QUESTION:  Can you say anything about this?  Are you hoping that the Iraqis will handle this?  Is it because they're breaking Iraqi laws and directing attacks against Iraqis or what's the story there?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Let me look into it, Elise.  I've seen the news reports about this issue.  I, frankly, haven't asked the question in-house here.  So I'll take a look and see if there's anything we can offer on that.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Yes, sir.

QUESTION:  Following up on the Secretary's remarks Iran-Syrian cartoon, I mean, can you point to any specifics or any evidence that points to the governments' involvement in any of these inciting violence?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, a few things.  One, in Syria, violent protests don't take place without the assistance of the government.  Whether that is just standing aside or active -- or offering active encouragement, at this point I can't tell you.  But burning down two embassies in Damascus doesn't happen without the knowledge of the Syrian Government.

With respect to Iran, we also have seen attacks against embassies in Tehran.  I would also suggest to you that things like that don't happen without the knowledge and/or assistance of the Iranian Government.

And third, the newspaper that sponsored this so-called contest in Tehran is owned by the municipality of Tehran.  I would point out to you that the former mayor of Tehran is now the president of Iran and we've heard his thoughts on the matter, which are disgusting.

So I think what you see here, just those few examples, are indications of and evidence of what the Secretary talked about, and that is the attempt by the governments of Iran and Syria to use the current situation to incite individuals to violence, and we've seen the results of that.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) with all due respect, I mean, are you suggesting demonstrators all over the world take their cue from these two governments?

MR. MCCORMACK:  No, I'm differentiating --

QUESTION:  Because there's a lot of street action here.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'm differentiating between what has occurred in Damascus and Tehran, which I would suggest to you is different in its character than protests, some of the protests we have seen in other places.  I grant you we have seen individual acts of violence or even those involving groups in other areas.  Yes, I grant you that.  But what I would submit to you is that what we have seen in Damascus and Tehran is qualitatively different than we have seen in other places.  That's what I'm saying and I think that's what the Secretary is saying as well.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Can you just clarify what you said about the Iranian newspaper?  Is it that you think national authorities have requested this newspaper to invent this competition?

MR. MCCORMACK:  Well, I'm trying to connect the dots here for you.  A few things.  One, we know the newspaper is owned by the municipality of Tehran.  It's a government entity.  Two, we know who the former mayor of Tehran is.  Three, we know his thoughts regarding the Holocaust.  We've seen disgusting statements coming from him before.  And lastly, if you look at our last Human Rights Report, it's a known technique that the Iranian Government uses to direct media how to cover an event or what to say about particular issues.  So these things are all knowns, so I don't think it's -- I don't think you have to travel too far a distance to put all those things together.


QUESTION:  On Cyprus.  Mr. McCormack, I am wondering if you could comment on the (inaudible) editorial by a Turkish Cypriot newspaper of February 6 regarding the new Turkish plan on Cyprus:  "What does the new action plan say?  If you leave the isolation, we'll open the ports.  What is the difference between this demand and a kidnapper asking for ransom?  In spite of this, both American and Britain come out and praise this act of piracy and now Germany joined the line.  They have no legal ground at all."

MR. MCCORMACK:  You said that was an editorial?


MR. MCCORMACK:  That's somebody's opinion.  I don't have anything to say about it.

QUESTION:  And also another one on Cyprus.  Deputy Assistant Secretary Matt Bryza said yesterday in Europe that he believes that only Greece could not see the better perspective on the Cyprus problem by using this dialogue with the Greek Cypriot side.  I am wondering how, since Cyprus is a free and independent country and the Turkish Cypriot side is a victim, Mr. McCormack, of the Turkish invasion and occupation forces and they are taking all this direct from Ankara.

MR. MCCORMACK:  I think that Matt's comments are clear and I don't have anything to add to them.


QUESTION:  I have one (inaudible) question.  At the time when the U.S. wants to get its message out more, it seems to be cutting back funding for VOA English service.  And some say VOA English service will be gone by October and I wonder what the rationale is by the --

MR. MCCORMACK:  I'll look into that for you, Michelle.  Yeah.

QUESTION:  And Russia, one more?

MR. MCCORMACK:  What's that?

QUESTION:  On Russia, the last one.

MR. MCCORMACK:  The last one.

QUESTION:  Before yesterday, February 6, in Athens, during a press conference, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov answering to us, question -- confirm that his country signed an agreement with Turkey of a creation of naval task force, in order to fight international terrorists in the Black Sea.

And he stated further that both countries, also Turkey, agreed not to accept any other country in this joint fleet.  I would like to know now the reaction of the U.S. Government on this issue, since my question is pending for a few weeks.

MR. MCCORMACK:  Right.  And we did -- in fairness, we did look into that.  We weren't able to find any information.  Given this new set of facts, that you presented to us here --


MR. MCCORMACK:  Let me look in -- let me --

QUESTION:  So, you'll talk with Mr. --

MR. MCCORMACK:  -- with Mr. Casey --

QUESTION:  -- possibly with Ambassador Ries in Athens?  Can you get in touch with Ambassador Ries in Athens?


MR. MCCORMACK:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)

(end transcript)

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

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