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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
August 9, 2006

INDEX:

ISRAEL/LEBANON
U.S. Working with French, Others on Security Council Resolution / Timing of Withdrawal
Solution Should Be Acceptable to All Parties / Durable
U.S. Continues to Urge Israel to Do Everything Possible to Avoid Loss of Innocent Life
Mechanism for International Force / UNIFIL / Effective, Robust Force / Fulfill Mandate
Views of the Lebanese Government / Workable Resolution
U.S. Working with France on Resolution
Siniora's Seven Points / Extending Lebanese Sovereignty Over All of Lebanon
Mandate of International Force
Handover of Territory / Working on Details / Israeli Withdrawal
Efforts to Get Humanitarian Assistance Into Southern Lebanon
U.S. Efforts to Assist in the Delivery of Fuel Oil to Lebanon
Potential Donors of Forces / Robust Forces are in Short Supply
Need for a Political Solution to the Crisis
GREECE
Secretary Rice's Conversation with Greek Foreign Minister
TURKEY
Potential Special Coordinator for PKK / Trilateral Mechanism
IRAQ
Ambassador's Khalilzad's Comments on Iranian Meddling in Iraq
Prime Minister al-Maliki's Comments on Raid / Need for Political Leadership to be Informed
Control of Petroleum Operations / Kirkuk Issue / An Iraqi Problem to Work Out
LIBYA
Embassy Water Bill Dispute with Washington, D.C.
SUDAN
Recent Violence Worrying / Need for a Political Solution
Secretary Rice, A/S Frazer Deeply Engaged in Sudan
Secretary Rice's Conversation with Secretary General Annan
Sudan on the Agenda for the Security Council
EGYPT
Eleven Missing Egyptian Students / State working with Departments of Justice, Homeland Security
CUBA
Reported New Immigration Regulations / Cuba Working Group at State Department
Castro's Health


TRANSCRIPT:

12:32 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. No opening statements so we can get right into your questioning.

QUESTION: The usual subject. A couple of things, if I may.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Israel's cabinet has approved another offensive. What do you think of that? And not secondly but just as important is where do things stand on the resolution, what is your expectation now for at least getting something to put to the Council and then of course the chance of it being approved.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's a lot in there.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: You've asked several questions in there, Barry. Let's try to make a start.

The Security Council. We are working away up at the Security Council with the French as well as other members of the Security Council. I know from the outside sometimes diplomacy looks a bit like a mosh pit, but there is actually structure and order to the discussion and we are working very well with the French. There are some differences that we need to iron out on the draft resolution that we have before us. As many of you have reported and a lot of people have talked about, some of the most important of those issues relate to the timing of an Israeli withdrawal. Our view from the very beginning has been that we do not want to create a vacuum in southern Lebanon and you also do not want to have foreign forces in Lebanon. The Israelis agree on that. The Lebanese agree on that. Everybody shares that view.

So the question comes down to how do you effect a situation where you have a cessation of hostilities, a withdrawal of Israeli forces and a responsible, robust authoritative force in southern Lebanon that can exercise control in that area so you don't hand the keys back to Hezbollah to start this kind of violence once again. You can't replace some presence with no presence. Everybody agrees that you don't want to create a vacuum. So the question then comes down to, how exactly do you do that?

And that is essentially I think, Barry, the crux of a lot of the discussions that are ongoing now that involve us, that involve the French as well as others. I would point out that we are in very close contact with the Lebanese Government. David Welch just had meetings this morning with Prime Minister Siniora. So we have a very good idea of where the Lebanese are coming from, what Prime Minister Siniora has in mind, certainly what is possible and what is acceptable to all sides. There is not going to be complete convergence of agendas here. We know that. That's the nature of multilateral diplomacy.

So the point is to try to get to a solution that is acceptable to all parties and that meets the important standard of being a durable solution. We don't want to be, I don't want to be, nobody wants to be back here in this briefing room or negotiating tables all around the world three weeks, three months, or three years from now talking -- having these very same discussions with even more lives lost, and even more instability caused, and even more time lost in trying to bring peace and stability to that region and to help the Lebanese people build a better way of life.

As for the Israeli decision, I'm not in the habit of commenting on their military operations, Barry. We have, in the past, very strongly counseled, both in public and private that the Israeli Government needs to take the utmost care to avoid any loss of innocent life. These are very difficult situations. And we would also urge the Israeli Government to do everything that they possibly can on the humanitarian front. It's a very difficult humanitarian situation in the south of Lebanon as well as in cities like Tyre -- they're essentially cut off from the outside world. So in many cases, there are very grave concerns that we, as well as others have. And I know the Israeli people and the Israeli Government are concerned about that and we're also concerned about the plight of the Israeli people in the north of Israel who are subject to rocket attacks and the threat of violence emanating from southern Lebanon from Hezbollah. So these are all very much on our mind.

The way -- the best way, though, to address all of these concerns, stopping the violence, the humanitarian situation on both sides of the border is to get to a resolution that everybody can accept, and that is effective, and that can be implemented. And that you have the resources in place to back up what is on paper, because if you don't have the right resources matched up with the right words, you're not going to have an effective solution.

QUESTION: To get back to the resolution very briefly --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The outstanding issue is not a matter of a comma or a semicolon.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I --

QUESTION: It's whether Israeli troops have to withdraw instantly and quickly. Is this issue manageable? Do you think a resolution can be concluded? I know that everybody hates handicapping, but can it be put together this week, do you think?

MR. MCCORMACK: Barry, we're working on an urgent basis and have been for some time to come up with a resolution. We have been working with the French. We are certainly doing everything we can to bring about an end to the violence in a way that, like I said, you don't hand the keys back to the terrorists who started all of this.

So that is what is on the mind of the Secretary. She is devoting a considerable amount of time to this, as well as other people in this building and up in New York, as well as in capitals around the world. So that's the -- everybody's working on that, Barry. And we certainly hope that we can arrive at a solution both in terms of getting the words right, the ideas right, as well as getting the resources right.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Quite often the discussion seems to focus on what an international force will look like and also whether it might be quicker and easier just to beef up UNIFIL, which is what the Lebanese want. What's the U.S. position on this? Are you leaning more towards the Lebanese side now in supporting a kind of a beefed-up UNIFIL mission that would have a new mandate?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, I'm not going to get into the ins and outs of our particular position or the position of others on these questions. I have seen news reports about what mechanism do you use for this international force. We will -- we would hope to arrive at an effective solution and an effective solution means that you have the right numbers of troops in an international force, you have the right kinds of troops, that they have the right mandate and that they have the right kind of leadership. So those are all -- and there are a variety of other factors that go into this. Experts on this -- the deployment of these kind of forces -- can give you chapter and verse on it.

But what we want is an effective, robust force that can support the Lebanese Government in fulfilling what the international community has asked them to do and what the Lebanese Government will ask them to do. And that basically -- basically -- boils down to controlling southern Lebanon and controlling it in such a way that you don't have armed militias roaming freely throughout southern Lebanon, able to provoke these kind of crises and also that you don't have the ability to resupply those kind of militias. So those are important elements and we're working on this as a -- I guess, a criteria based issue, you know, how do you -- what are the criteria that you have to meet and what are the right mechanisms that you can use. But certainly, whatever the international force is, and however it turns out, it has to be effective, it has to be robust and it has to be able to work to fulfill the mandate that the Security Council outlines for it.

QUESTION: Also Lebanon's Speaker of Parliament apparently told David Welch today that, you know, what the U.S. was taking was a bunch of cosmetics and that it was still a very ugly resolution, was how they perceive it. If you can't get his support and, therefore, the support of Hezbollah because he's an interlocutor with Hezbollah, and then how on earth are you going to be able to move ahead with it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he's the Speaker of the Parliament and certainly David has had meetings with Mr. Nabih Beri before; he had some today as well. The head of the government is Prime Minister Siniora; that is our primary interlocutor, but we do have contacts and important contacts with people like the Speaker of the Parliament. Of course we'll listen to what he has to say and his views, and I think we have a good idea of what the views of the Lebanese Government are.

Look, in multilateral diplomacy there -- everybody has their wish list. Everybody has their agendas that they want to work from. Those agendas aren't always, and very rarely are, completely consonant. And so what you try to come up with is a resolution that is workable, that is effective and that can be accepted by all the parties. Certainly, we want to come up with a resolution that is acceptable to the international community to meet its criteria, that is acceptable to the Lebanese Government and that is acceptable to the Israeli Government. Those are all key parties to this. And it is a matter of trying to work the diplomacy so you can have something that meets all the criteria that I just outlined.

Libby.

QUESTION: How does this new Israeli ground offensive factor into the ability to get a resolution? How do you see this affecting the process at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Libby, I, you know, I can't speak to the particulars of the Israel military operations. I don't have the details on their operations.

Our focus is on the diplomacy. I think that regardless of the kind of military operations, which is not something the United States or any other state other than Israel controls, our focus will be on the diplomacy and trying to bring an end to the kind of large-scale violence and try to bring an immediate end to the kind of large-scale violence that we're seeing and come up with a lasting and durable solution. So that's where our focus is right now.

Yeah, Teri.

QUESTION: How would you describe the working atmosphere up at the UN now? There's all these stories of how it has been degraded and sort of -- that you and the French are -- your alliance is crumbling. What do you make of those remarks, some of which are attributed to U.S. officials?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I think people have been writing that story for 50 years. You know, I mean, Colin Powell, former Secretary Powell, had a great quote about the --

QUESTION: Marriage --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- American-French relationship being in marriage counseling for 200 years. Come on. (Laughter.) That was a wonderful quote. But look, we're working well with the French, both in New York as well as in Paris and here. These are intense times. They're intense times in the Security Council. The Security Council is being asked to fulfill some important responsibilities. These are the fundamental issues of war and peace for which the Security Council was designed to deal. So, yeah, there's a lot of emotion. There's a lot of intensity to the effort up there. But you have Ambassador Bolton and Ambassador de la Sabliere who are working very well together. They're professionals. They're dedicated to the task at hand and, you know, we're working diplomacy hard.

QUESTION: But do you feel at all betrayed or at least disappointed that the French suddenly did want major changes in the language to incorporate the Lebanese proposals?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let this French Government speak for themselves.

QUESTION: No. Do you feel betrayed by that?

MR. MCCORMACK: We're going to focus on trying to get the job done here. We're going to focus on trying to get a resolution.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: There's a lot of concerns about Israel that ever since 1948, China in every war that the Arabs had, or that at every ceasefire -- or not ceasefire -- ceasing of hostility period, Israel occupied more land during that period, captured more strategic land and tops of mountains and places like that. And also it used -- Israel used these kind of clashes as a pretext to prolong, to stay in that territories. How much concern do you find yourself or agreeing with those concerns of the Lebanese and Arab audience?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not going to speak to the history of conflict in the Middle East over the past 50 years, and as to who might have started many of those conflicts that resulted in Israeli gains of territory. I think if you look back at that history you might find it kind of interesting who actually initiated some of those conflicts.

Look, our job here is to try to find a solution that's durable. We want to try to -- we are concerned about peace and stability in the region, and it's an important moment for the region. You know, this is an important time and we want to do everything that we can to try to bring peace and stability to the region. Look, we are friends of the Lebanese people, we are friends of this Lebanese Government, we are friends of the Israeli people and we are friends of this Israeli Government. We want to try to find a solution here.

And I know there are a lot of voices out there purporting to speak on behalf of the Lebanese Government and others, but I think we have a good idea of where the mind of Prime Minister Siniora is at with regard to this. David Welch was just in Beirut. We have a very good idea of what is possible, what is acceptable. Certainly we have an idea of how a solution that we think might be acceptable could look. It is a matter of working the diplomacy to effect that kind of solution, get it down on paper, and, as I said, get the right resources in place so that you can implement that piece of paper.

QUESTION: Can I ask you please what are the agreement -- the points of agreement that you find yourself at with the seven points statement of -- or plan of Mr. Siniora's government?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think Secretary Rice talked about that in Rome at the time. I think Prime Minister Siniora outlined some very important elements and those essentially are -- I don't have the seven points in front of me right now -- but essentially talks about withdrawal over the blue line, it talks about deployment of the Lebanese armed forces, it talks about support of those Lebanese forces by an international force. Everybody agrees with the essential elements of an Israeli withdrawal, deployment of Lebanese forces, extending Lebanese sovereignty over all of Lebanon, and the support of the international force. I think that's really at the core of what his proposal talks about. Those are all the elements.

Details matter. How you affect that changeover is -- it matters. And one of the most complex tasks that any military can perform, and it's a difficult task even within a military, is the handover of territory from one military to another. And that has to be done carefully. There has to be -- it has to be carefully mapped out. But more importantly, you don't want to create a situation where you remove a presence and into that vacuum flows a negative presence like the armed wing of Hezbollah once again. Nobody wants to see that. So we are working on the details of --

QUESTION: So no points of disagreement?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I'm not going to go through -- I'm not going to go through his entire seven-point proposal, but what I talked about was what was at the core of it, and I think I outlined what I believe is at the core, that and our points of agreement with those core elements.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Libby.

QUESTION: Why do you think the Lebanese Government keeps insisting on having a UN force there in the southern part of Lebanon?

MR. MCCORMACK: As opposed to an international --

QUESTION: Right. What is your understanding of what they want?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- you know, I'll let them talk about their reasoning.

QUESTION: I mean, you have to -- as part of their negotiations, what?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right -- no, I'll let them talk to what is the thinking that goes into their own reasoning. Look; there are a lot of different ways to come at this, in terms of an international force. And I think that we are open to a variety of different mechanisms for an international force, but what matters is what that force is mandated to do, how it is equipped, and the numbers of those forces. So what matters more than the title or a name of a force is what it does, and what it can do, and what it is mandated to do, what's its mission. And so that's where we are focused on and you want that across all of those elements.

You want to have a robust force, a robust international force to support the Lebanese armed forces in these -- in the short term. And over the medium and long term, you want the Lebanese armed forces to be able to exercise that kind of control and have that same degree of effectiveness and robust capabilities that it would need to exercise control over all of that territory.

QUESTION: So do you think the Lebanese are closer to the U.S. position that you just articulated? I mean, you know, beyond what they've said publicly, you said you have a good read on Siniora.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: So?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Prime Minister Siniora can speak for himself. I'm not going to purport to speak for him. I know a lot of other people are, but we have a good idea of, again, what I said, what is on the mind of the Lebanese Government, what their needs are, what is possible, what is acceptable. And certainly, we have an idea of what a solution might look like, an effective solution, and we're going to work to try to get there.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Can you tell us if the U.S. and the French are still working off the same text or will they be possibly submitting competing texts?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think at this point, my latest information is we're working off the same text. There are brackets in that text, but the same text, same piece of paper.

QUESTION: But different brackets?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) I got to that before you could, Barry.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: You said that the U.S. is open to a variety of different mechanisms. What are those mechanisms, then, that you're open to?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Libby was talking about -- what about --

QUESTION: Just wondered if you could expand on --

MR. MCCORMACK: What about the -- I don't know if I can really expand on it now.

Okay, yeah.

QUESTION: I'm going to ask you something that I doubt you'll answer, okay? The withdrawal of Israeli forces, okay, now what -- as -- to the extent that you can feel free to discuss it, what is the issue? The instant withdrawal, the promise to withdraw? Is -- would it -- do you think it would be satisfactory to all concerned if Israel agreed to withdraw and did not commit itself not to come back? In other words, I don't know if it means -- if the issue was withdrawal now, withdrawal in theory, withdraw don't return. I don't know where the hang-up is, but clearly, the hang-up is over Israeli withdrawal.

MR. MCCORMACK: It's the -- I would phrase it a little bit differently, Barry.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: It's really the turnover from one force to another of territory and doing that in such a way that you don't have -- you don't create -- as President Bush said, you don't create a vacuum so you have an inflow of terrorists that can get us right back to where we were. So that is the operating principle and as I said before, the details matter, timing matters, how you sequence these things. This is the stuff of multilateral diplomacy. We've seen it before in many instances, so these details matter. These details, in putting them down on a piece of paper and arriving at these understandings, will have practical effects down the line. And the practical effect that you want to have is that you have a durable solution, you have a cessation to hostilities, you have a de-escalation from this large-scale violence that lasts.

So it's important to get the details right now and we have stood firmly on the principle that you cannot create a vacuum there. Everybody agrees that Israel needs to withdraw as a part of this cessation of hostilities. Everybody agrees on -- these Israelis agree on that. But you know, we are not going to replace something with nothing because if you do that, then all you do -- you, once again, have put all the ingredients back for more violence, more instability and the ability of a terrorist group to plunge the region into violence and cause more loss of life.

QUESTION: Can I ask you on the humanitarian (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: You know, you daily make a pitch to Israel to make it easier, make possible the humanitarian -- by all accounts, all the roads are impassable now. So your pitch seems to be almost a wish instead of a reality. Is it -- as things stand now, is this sufficient to access or at least workable access for humanitarian relief?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think.

QUESTION: Are we past the point where all of this stuff can get through?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, no, you never want to give up, Barry. Yes, the situation is very difficult. And for those people in -- those people that are victims of violence provoked by Hezbollah, certainly the last thing they want to hear is that, well, that's too hard. We're not going to -- we're not even going to try. Yeah, it's a battle zone in southern Lebanon. But I think where there is a will, there is a way. Certainly there is a will on the part of the international community, on the part of the United States, on the part of international aid organizations to try to get needed humanitarian assistance into the people who need it.

Nobody wants a situation where under the cover of humanitarian assistance that some nefarious activities are able to take place. Nobody wants that. Least of which would be international aid organizations.

So I think given the opportunity, Barry, I think that certainly the international community and, you know, we would do our part, would seize upon opportunities to provide international assistance to those who need it. So we are, you know, examples of our -- for example, delivery of fuel oil into -- and to Lebanon, so that hospitals can run their generators. Everybody wants that. We're working hard to make sure that happens.

So there are a lot of different examples of this where -- and you don't see it. You know, this is -- these are people working here in the State Department in our Embassy in Tel Aviv, in our Embassy in Beirut, who are working to try to make this happen. And --

QUESTION: There are examples of aid actually getting to south Lebanon, though, since they blew up that last road in --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- I don't have the details of it for you, frankly.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. doing exactly to help in the delivery of fuel oil and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, if this is -- not to get into too many of the details of it as I don't have all of them. But you have fuel oil tankers that normally would go right into a port in Beirut or other places to drop off fuel oil shipments. There is -- the Israelis still have a naval blockade off the coast of Lebanon. So there is a first step in needing to get safe passage for those ships into Lebanese waters where they can either dock or offload fuel shipments so they can get to the places where you need to. So obviously if you just think through that chain, that requires a lot of logistics, and when you're trying to do this remotely, you know, from various capitals here in Washington, and Tel Aviv, and Beirut, and you're working in what is essentially a battle zone, there's a lot of coordination that needs to be done and that's a big part of what we are trying to do. We want to make sure that --

QUESTION: So are you asking the Israelis to lift their blockade and allow certain --

MR. MCCORMACK: What --

QUESTION: So how are you practically pushing --

MR. MCCORMACK: Practically, well, there are a lot of different ways to do it and I'm not going to get into exactly how you do it. But you make accommodations so that there would be safe passage in for ships and there is also consideration of these are commercial vessels and, you know, the owners and the captains of these commercial vessels have to make certain decisions about risk and what risks they're willing to take. You know, what we want to try to do is provide a set of circumstances where not only can you get the -- you know, in an objective sense get things through, but you also hope to create the set of circumstances where those people that have the -- own these commercial assets will make the decision to allow ships to go through and other types of transport to go through.

Dave Gollust. Same subject?

QUESTION: I've seen reports that the task for this international force might require like 15- to 20,000 combat-ready troops that would be inserted in an extraordinarily dangerous situation. Are you confident that the resources for this are at hand that could be put together soon enough to actually fit into the timetable we've been talking about here?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have had -- and others have had some initial discussions with -- between experts on defining what might be needed in such a force. And again, these guys get into what the order of battle is for these forces and how they fit together and who might be able to do these things.

There's been a lot of thinking about this piece of it, Dave. Although there has not been a formal force-pledging conference, there is a lot of thought that has gone into this. States have come forward and said that they would be very interested in contributing. Now, of course, that's not an open-ended offer; they want to understand the circumstances and the mandate, and exactly what's required of them. But there is actually a lot of activity behind the scenes that's going on in that regard in the hopes that we do get to a resolution in the near future which would allow for an inflow of these international forces. It's key. It's absolutely key to getting a lasting solution here that you have that international force that can support the Lebanese forces.

So there is the capability that's out there. I know that robust forces are in shorter supply than you might think around the world. We've seen that repeatedly. But there are those states that at least at this point are willing to step up and that these forces would be real troops with real capabilities. You know, just somebody standing there and showing up is not enough; these guys would need to be capable, they would need to be disciplined and good at their jobs, and be able to fulfill the mandate that's outlined for them by a future Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Your putting this together practically instantaneously doesn't rank among the top problems?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly it's an issue. But the point I was trying to make is that it isn't as necessarily instantaneous as you might think. Yeah, it has to be done in short order, but we have been talking about generating these kind of forces for some time so there's already been a lot of groundwork that has gone into this. Now, when you actually get down to giving the go order, then yes, that might take some time. But there has been some thought. It's not as though people are just starting from zero on this. There has been a lot of thought and work that has gone into it. It's going to require a lot more thought and work, especially when you start wrestling with practically questions of moving forces from A to B. We do have people that are working on that.

Yes. We'll get to you, Lambros.

QUESTION: We've heard you many times and other U.S. officials calling on Israel, or urging Israel to restrain from bombing civilians. The continuation of the agony and tragedy of the Lebanese couldn't be more underlined than the cries and the tears of Mr. Siniora the other day during the foreign minister meeting in Beirut. Isn't there any ability for the United States take it to a higher level where people in the Middle East can see more tangible efforts by the United States, using it as leverage with Israel, more leverage than just urging? You know, because there is a widespread belief that the United States can do more with Israelis to stop this daily killing of their civilians, the Lebanese civilians.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you know, I have seen those same pictures and certainly, you know, you see young children who are hurt or injured or killed. You know, as a parent, of course, that affects you. But you also have to -- and it is a very difficult and tragic circumstance when innocents lose their life in this kind of conflict and it's very difficult.

We have -- you know, we have talked to the Israeli Government. Ultimately, they are the ones that conduct military operations. But certainly in our private conversations with the Israeli Government, you do -- they do understand the need to take the utmost care to avoid the loss of innocent life, because everybody -- the Israeli Government, everybody understands at the end of the day, you need -- once we get beyond this crisis moment, that you have to have a political solution to any differences that may exist between peoples and between countries. And the Israeli Government also understands that it is in their long-term interest, it's in the long-term interest of the region, to have a stable, democratic Lebanon. We all know that. We all want to get to that place. We all want to get to that place as soon as we possibly can.

So the way -- the best way to address this is right now, to try to get to a solution. That's what we're doing. That's what Secretary Rice is doing. She's spending an awful lot of time on it. President Bush wants to get to that place as well. So that's ultimately the way that you ensure that there isn't needless additional loss of innocent life and that's ultimately the solution. And ultimately the solution is not to have a military group, terrorist group like Hezbollah, be able to start this kind of conflict again and so we don't see those kind of terrible pictures. Nobody wants to see those pictures.

Yeah, Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes. Mr. McCormack, it is my understanding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyianni was in New York City. They spoke over the phone. I'm wondering --

MR. MCCORMACK: They did, they did. As a matter of fact --

QUESTION: What was the context of the --

MR. MCCORMACK: As a matter of fact, they were speaking at almost the moment you were asking me the question yesterday. (Laughter.) Funny how that happens, huh?

QUESTION: And do you know about the context?

MR. MCCORMACK: They were talking about that Greece is a member of the Security Council, and they were talking about the current situation on the ground in the region, but they were also talking about the work on the Security Council resolution. They had a good discussion on it. Don't have any other details that I'm at liberty to share with you right now.

QUESTION: On Turkey, a bunch of Turkish politicians loyal to Mr. , (inaudible), slammed the popular Prime Minister Recep Erdogan because he accepted a U.S. plan on the appointment of a U.S. special coordinator for the PKK issue, claiming that means recognition of PKK by Turkey and also mediation and in direct talks. Could you please clarify, Mr. McCormack, the U.S. position on this issue, especially the role of the U.S. coordinator on PKK?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, a couple things. One, I'm not going to get into domestic political disputes on Turkey. Two, what we want to do is we want to make that trilateral mechanism that involves the United States, Turkey, and Iraq an effective mechanism, so we want to make sure that we have the right person in place. Secretary Rice is thinking about that. We have had some initial discussions with the Turkish Government on that matter, but at this point, I don't have any further details that I can offer you.

QUESTION: And two questions on Iraq.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let's keep it to one question, one more question. We have other people who need to ask questions.

QUESTION: On Iraq, according to Reuters news agency, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq yesterday accused Iran of having forces in Iraq and said Tehran could use the war between Hezbollah and Israel in Lebanon to try and further destabilize the entire area. Do you believe this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen Ambassador Khalilzad's remarks. Is that who they're attributed to? I don't know. I haven't seen the remarks.

QUESTION: Reuters news agency.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.

QUESTION: Yes, Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look; I haven't seen his remarks. I have no particular point of disagreement, in that Iran certainly has been meddling in the affairs of Iraq. We have talked about that before. We have talked about the fact that we have no problem with Iran and Iraq having a good, transparent, neighborly relationship, based on mutual respect. What you don't want to see is any efforts by Iran to try to meddle in the internal affairs of Iraq, try to cause -- try to provoke violence or participate in violence. And if that was the nature of Ambassador Khalilzad's remarks, certainly, we have said that before and we'll continue to say it as long as Iran messes around in Iraq.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Also on Iraq, is there any response to criticism by the Prime Minister Maliki of this U.S.-led raid into Sauder City at the weekend and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Saw his remarks and certainly, we -- when the Prime Minister says something in public and raises some questions, of course we listen to that. I think that the Department of Defense is going to be in contact with him and his office, and we certainly want to make sure that in whatever U.S. and Iraqi forces do together, which was the case here, that certainly, political leadership, Prime Minister Maliki is fully informed and aware of it and comfortable with what they do, because those operations are working on behalf of the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people to try and make it a safer place.

QUESTION: No concern there about a bit of a wedge with the Shiite community -- I mean, the Shiite --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, we're -- you know, look, we're going to work -- this was a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation, so it's not as if the U.S. forces were operating outside the bounds of the Iraqi forces. So if there are concerns, certainly, we want to address them. We will.

Yeah, Teri.

QUESTION: There is -- sorry, change of subject. Do you have any information on a $27,000 water bill for the Libyan embassy?

MR. MCCORMACK: Teri, I can say that that's water under the bridge right now. (Laughter.) Apparently, there was a dispute between the local water sewage company and the Libyan Embassy. Knowledge -- the information that I have is that the dispute, the bill in question, has been settled and there is no longer a problem. This goes -- our role in this is that our Office of Foreign Missions works with foreign embassies here in Washington, so my understanding is that the dispute has been resolved.

QUESTION: So did Libya actually pay the bill?

MR. MCCORMACK: You can talk to WASA, which is the Washington Area Sewer Authority and they can give you --

QUESTION: Yeah. I can get sources on it.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- the details of it.

QUESTION: Okay. But -- so there's no -- nothing hampering as far as you know that --

MR. MCCORMACK: As far as I know --

QUESTION: -- Libya's taking their building out of commission.

MR. MCCORMACK: As far as I know the issue has been resolved.

Yeah, Sue.

QUESTION: On Sudan. I wondered whether you had an update on the humanitarian situation in Sudan where aid workers are coming under increasing attack and also people in the camps. And secondly, the Save Darfur Coalition has come out with a big ad today in Waco -- is it Waco or Waca?

MR. MCCORMACK: Waco.

QUESTION: In a Waco paper in which they are urging the Bush Administration to become, in their words, reengaged on the Darfur issue and to appoint a special envoy.

MR. MCCORMACK: On the first, I did look into the questions that you guys raised yesterday about the violence and I think that there are -- there's a recent period here where the violence has been worrying. You have seen aid workers and others that have come under attack, people have lost their lives and that's concerning. So the -- we talked about it yesterday. The ultimate solution is a political solution, but in terms of trying to reduce the levels of large-scale violence, you want to have that blue-helmeted force get in their, both on the AU force that is there. The AU has said that they want that turnover to take place by October 1st. That date's coming up on us real fast.

We support the AU in that and we're pushing hard at the UN and elsewhere to try to make that happen. That ultimately is going to -- along with the good-faith steps by parties to the Darfur Peace Agreement and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, bring greater peace and stability to Sudan.

As for the second, we are deeply engaged in Sudan. It's something Secretary Rice spends time on, even in the midst of the crisis in the Middle East. It's something that she has been asking questions about and thinking about, working with Jendayi Frazer, our Assistant Secretary for African Affairs who has the lead on it. In terms of appointment of an envoy, certainly I know that idea has been out there. You have to think long and hard about that and give it all due consideration. But at this point, I don't -- can't give you a steer one way or the other on that.

QUESTION: You said that the Secretary is deeply involved and very concerned about this.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: But who has she been speaking to? In her conversation with Kofi Annan, for example, did she look at the Sudan issue? Has she been in direct contact with the government in Sudan, and not just via Jendayi Frazer?

MR. MCCORMACK: She hasn't talked to the Sudanese leadership. She has talked -- I don't have a date for you, but I know that certainly within the past couple of weeks she has talked to Secretary General Annan about Sudan. I think that, you know, just talking to folks in the State Department here and our International Organization and Affairs Bureau, their view is that the next item up on the agenda for the Security Council should be Sudan and pushing through actions so that you can meet that October 1st proposed turnover date that the AU has put out on the table. So yeah, it's -- it is something that we want to put on the table up in the Security Council and get action on it.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Change of subject? On the 11 Egyptian students that were supposed to travel to Montana for English lessons but disappeared after showing up in New York -- or arriving in New York, rather -- has the State Department been working with the Egyptian Government or with other governments around the world to try to find out where they are and what they might be up to?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I know that our guys are in touch with Departments of Justice and Homeland Security on it, but those agencies, frankly, have the lead role in this. This involves foreign citizens here in the United States. This is a private program so it wasn't any State Department-sponsored program. Our function -- our role in this -- has been to issue a particular kind of visa to these students. Beyond that, I think that really the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice are in a better position to provide the information on it.

QUESTION: Any of you guys discussed with the Egyptians or other governments about this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not -- I'll check for you. I'm not aware of any particular discussions we've had with the Egyptians on it.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Yeah, on the Cuban transition.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I have two questions. One concerning this draft for new immigration regulations for the Cubans, do you have anything about this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'd refer you to our friends at the Department of Homeland Security on that question.

QUESTION: And then how much more reinforcements the State Department has now to work on the Cuban transition?

MR. MCCORMACK: How many people?

QUESTION: Yeah. Like whether you have more -- whether the U.S. have more people working on this and how many.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have a task force up and running.

QUESTION: Yeah. How --

MR. MCCORMACK: Certainly, yes. In the range -- I don't -- I will try to -- we can get the numbers, rough numbers.

QUESTION: When did this task force start --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think I talked about it last week when it started up.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't remember the date exactly.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have any more details on Fidel Castro's health? Do you know if he's still alive?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Don't have any details on his health.

Joel.

QUESTION: Sean, earlier you spoke about humanitarian assistance into Lebanon. Would there be any consideration to having the ICRC, Red Cross, Mercy Corps, World Vision and others operate a extensive, I guess, both a military airlift as well as helicopter airlift into the area? And one of the considerations, too, is that in many locales, even Sudan which Sue just mentioned, the various NGO groups have been interfered with and/or in some instances kidnapped or killed. Would it be a consideration between yourselves, UN and other factors to bring that assistance in almost immediately?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Joel, we work really closely with NGOs, international organizations, humanitarian relief organizations around the world and we do what we can when our help is needed. Sometimes that help is needed and requested and we try to meet those requests. Other times organizations want to do it on their own. So it's really a mixture.

Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes, on Iraq. It's very important. According to Financial Times, Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region published a draft version of law giving itself the exclusive right to control petroleum operation in its own territory; in the meantime, control the disputed province of Kirkuk. Since something is going to upset the Turkish Government, any comment on that because it's -- the U.S. forces are there?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Iraqis in the drafting of their constitution addressed issues of who controlled the patrimony of the Iraqi people, including the oil resources. Kirkuk is a special case that has been carved out and there is going to -- the Iraqis are well aware that they need to come to grips with what is a very difficult, difficult problem. It is an Iraqi problem to work out.

Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:18 p.m.)

DPB # 133



Released on August 9, 2006



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