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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 13, 2006


Secretary Rice's Meeting Today with Iraq Study Group
Secretary Rice's Postponement of Travel to APEC / Secretary's Schedule at APEC
Secretary Rice's In-House Meetings Today
Prospects for Direct Talks with Iran on Iraq
Status of US Offer of Channel of Communication to Discuss Iraq with Iran
US Policy on Talks with Iran
No Change in US Policy Regarding Treaty of Lausanne
South Korean Decision Regarding Participation in Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)
South Korean Implementation of UNSC Resolution 1718
Under Secretaries Burns' and Joseph's Travel to the Region
Six-Party Talks and Possible Dates
Recent New York Channel Communications
Israel Prime Minister Olmert's Visit to US / Secretary Rice's Meeting with Prime Minster
US Assistance to Israel and to the Palestinian People
Arab League's Decision to Resume Bank Transfers to the Palestinian Authority
US Policy on Settlement Activity Unchanged
Palestinian Political Process and Composition of New Government
Political Situation in Lebanon / Hariri Assassination International Tribunal Issue
Stability of Prime Minister Siniora's Government
Situation in Chad / Violence / State of Emergency Declared
Report President-Elect Ortega Sending Envoys to Washington to Open Dialogue with US
American Citizen Released from Detention
USUN Ambassador Bolton and Confirmation
US Rejects "Independence Referendum" and "Presidential" Elections in South Ossetia


12:48 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. We can get right into your questions, whoever wants to start off.


QUESTION: Do you have any details of the Secretary's meeting at one o'clock with the Iraq Study Group?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it hasn't happened yet.


MR. MCCORMACK: And I think that this is designed to be a private give-and-take between the Iraq Study Group and a number of different individuals from inside the Administration and outside the Administration. It is designed to be a free-flowing, give-and-take exchange of views and ideas as well as information, and so I think we all respect that. She looks forward to meeting with them. She looks forward to reading whatever the final recommendations of the report are. She is one among many who is meeting with the Iraq Study Group today over at the White House.

QUESTION: Was the Secretary given a list of questions prior to her meeting with them? Is it an interview format or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't think -- it's not really an interview. I mean, like I said, this is a conversation. These are people that have a lot of experience in dealing with policy issues, some of whom have sat in chairs similar to those whom they are interviewing. So it is designed to be a discussion among people who have dealt with these kinds of issues or similar weighty policy issues in the past.

To my knowledge she hasn't been given a list of questions. I suspect that it will probably be a little bit more advanced dialogue than simply reading down a list of questions and providing answers. It's not a test.

QUESTION: Is this her first official conversation with them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Actually yes. Yes, it is.

QUESTION: What provision, if any, is being made to record the contents of the meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don?t know. It was a commission that was set up under Congress's mandate, so I don't know what the specific recordkeeping provisions are in terms of recording and notes and what happens to all those -- if there are -- any recording or notes afterwards.

QUESTION: So you don't know if there's going to be a stenographer present?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I don't know.

QUESTION: Just continuing on this subject, what -- how much of an obligation does the Bush Administration feel to implement the recommendations of this report when they come out, whatever they are?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the President's talked about this. The Secretary has talked about it. They're going to take a good hard look at whatever it is that they come up. It's a bipartisan group. As I said before, this is an experienced group of people who have dealt in -- not only with national security but other kinds of issues, people who have dealt with weighty issues who've sat in the chair where you have to make the decision among a variety of different competing policy alternatives. So it is an experienced group of people, have a lot of respect individually for the people on this study group. And as a group comprises a weighty collection of experience in these kinds of issues.

The Administration will take a close look at what they've said. I don't think the President is committed one way or the other to acting on what the group will come up. I think you want to take a look at what they have to say first before we actually commit to buying the whole thing -- buying it wholesale.

QUESTION: So he doesn't regard their recommendations as binding on him in any way?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let the White House speak to that particular issue. I can only repeat to you what the President has said before. He's going to take a good close look at it. These are people that are coming in from the outside, although they have now delved deeply into the issue of Iraq, who previously may not have dealt closely with the issue of Iraq so they bring to it a different, or a fresh perspective, and the Administration looks forward to hearing what they have to say.

Yes, Sue.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary postpone her visit to Vietnam by one day because of the issue of Iraq and trying to find solutions? Maybe you could give us (inaudible) to why she did --

MR. MCCORMACK: She did delay her visit to APEC -- it was just being held in Vietnam --by, I don't know, roughly 24 hours. She's still going to have a full schedule of meetings there in Hanoi, then travel on with the President to Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta and then back home here to Washington.

She wanted to ? have a -- participate in and have some additional meetings on Iraq here back at the State Department as well as over at the White House. So she thought, you know, given the importance of Iraq to our foreign policy and national security, she wanted to stay here and participate in some of those meetings. It was not with the Iraq Study Group. She's meeting -- scheduled to meet with them for about an hour. She has more time if they want to go a little bit longer, but that was not the reason for her delaying travel.

QUESTION: And what are the other meetings that she plans?

MR. MCCORMACK: Just in-house meetings, just in-house meetings here.

QUESTION: Could you provide more details?

MR. MCCORMACK: Just with meetings with people from the State Department. I suspect she'll probably also participate in some meetings over at the White House as well.

QUESTION: Did they just come up, those meetings? Was this something she just decided to do today and said okay, we?ll have a delay?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, this was over the past couple of days. I think it was over the weekend she decided that she wanted to stay back here for an additional day.

QUESTION: So which meetings is she going to miss in APEC?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have the full list for you. We can go over the schedule. In addition, she's not the only one that's going to be at APEC. U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab is also going to be there in Hanoi. So the United States will be represented at a very senior level even though Secretary Rice will not be there for that first day of meetings. She's going to be able to participate in some of the APEC meetings when she gets there as well as to have a number of bilateral meetings, and we'll run through the schedule with you. We'll get a schedule out to you guys so you can take a look and see with whom she's meeting.

Yes, Charlie.

QUESTION: Can you give us any more details on the meetings she's had here or the other meetings, besides the Iraq Study Group, at the White House? A Principals? meeting or --

MR. MCCORMACK: They are just in-house meetings, different collections of people, some here in the State Department, different folks from around the inter-agency.

Anything else on Iraq?

QUESTION: This study group -- is she just meeting -- is it just a meeting with the Secretary and the members of the group? Are there other officials in it?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, there are going to be some other State Department people along with her. I think maybe --

QUESTION: But not other officials from different agencies?



MR. MCCORMACK: It would just be some State Department folks.

Yes, Sylvie.

QUESTION: On Iraq. The President said this morning that he ruled out any direct talks with Iran about Iraq right now at this stage. Does it mean that the instructions that were given to Ambassador Khalilzad on having direct talks on -- with Iran on Iraq, exclusively on Iraq, have been withdrawn?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we went through a period where there was that offer of that channel of communication. It didn't work out for a variety of different reasons. We made an offer to talk specifically about Iraq. That particular channel didn't work out. If, in the future, we want to avail ourselves of that channel, then it certainly is a possibility. I don't think that right now that is something that's under consideration. We have encouraged Iran to play a positive role in Iraq and we have actually been at multilateral fora with Iran and Syria as well. The Iraq Compact meeting up at the United Nations this past September was a forum where Secretary Rice was sitting three rows or so away from her Iranian counterpart.

Now it didn't have any exchanges, but there was a forum where we were there and at the same time at the same place, in talking about Iraq and the importance of coming to the assistance and the aid of the Iraqi people. Iran certainly, I would imagine, has an interest in a peaceful, stable Iraq that is able to govern itself, that is able to control its own security, control its own borders. And we have in the past encouraged Iraq to -- Iran to play a positive role in Iraq, to have good neighborly, transparent relations with Iraq. Now that hasn't always been the case and the Iraqis have been the first to talk about the, at times, unhelpful role that Iran has played in Iraq. So we would call upon them to take a hard look at some of their activities in Iraq and put the question to themselves whether or not those activities really are in the best interest of a peaceful, stable, secure Iraq.

QUESTION: Under what conditions would you choose your words "avail yourselves" of the possibility of talking to Iran? What -- maybe you could elaborate on that.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not trying to indicate at this point any particular movement in that direction. Iran knows what they have to do. They have -- we have stated in public some of our concerns about their activities in Iraq. The Iraqis themselves have expressed those concerns directly to the Iranians. Others have talked to the Iranians about this. So they know what needs to be done, as do the Syrians. And I would expect that there will be future meetings of the same grouping, the Iraq Compact group, at which we hope that they do take an opportunity, both Iran and Syria, to step up and play a positive role in Iraq as opposed to the role that they are currently playing where it?s a some more ambiguous role.

QUESTION: Is it our policy that the United States cannot talk directly with Iran about its activities in Iraq or any other subject for that matter unless and until there is a verifiable suspension of the enrichment activity by Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are two separate issues. We have a very intense focus, along with a number of other countries on the nuclear issue. You know I wouldn't necessarily link those two issues, but we have said in the past that if Iran does avail -- if Iran does take up the world on its offer to negotiate and suspend its enrichment and reprocessing-related activities, that there will be -- there could be a discussion and negotiation within the P-5+1.

Now the focus of those discussions and negotiations would be Iran's nuclear issue. But other countries can, of course, bring up a variety of different topics. Could that be a forum where that issue is brought up? Of course it could be. But it's not the primary focus of that particular forum.

You know Iran knows what they need to do. They need to play a positive role in Iraq's future. I would think that the Iraqi people would expect that from them.

QUESTION: But when you tell us that these are two separate issues and you wouldn't necessarily link them, is it a fair inference to draw, then, that the United States might be open to direct talks with Iran about the Iraq issue regardless of whether there's a suspension?


QUESTION: I'm trying to get you to articulate your policy, that's all.

MR. MCCORMACK: Our policy would be to -- on the nuclear issue to try to bring increasing levels of pressure on Iran to get it to change its behavior. On a variety of other issues, whether that's fighting terrorism or the treatment of its own people or on Iraq, we have a variety of different ways and mechanisms and fora to address those issues. With respect to Iraq, there is the mechanism of the Iraqi Compact that is out there. That requires some certain things of the Iraqis; it requires certain things of outside countries including Iraq's neighbors. So Iran knows full well what it needs to do. It doesn't need a bilateral discussion with the United States in order to take steps that in their own right are helpful to the Iraqi people. That should be a good into -- unto itself that the Iranian people and the Iranian Government should take upon itself.

QUESTION: Just to go back to this. As a condition for having discussions with Iran over Iraq, would Iran have to abandon its enrichment program? Yes or no?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, this is primarily an issue between Iraq and Iran, two sovereign states. We would hope that the Iranian Government and the Iranian regime would itself see its way clear to playing a more positive role in Iraq.

They have taken steps to play a more positive role, for example, in Afghanistan. And we have, in smaller regional fora, sat around the same table with them to have those kinds of discussions. We have sat around -- I guess figuratively -- the same table in the Iraq Compact discussions. There were a number of different states -- I can't tell you -- maybe 30, 40, 50 states that are involved in those discussions. So again, these are -- we believe that these are separate issues and that Iran right now finds itself on the nuclear issue under threat of a UN sanctions resolution. And that we would hope that in all of these cases it would see its way clear to a more positive, constructive behavior in Iraq on terrorism, on human rights and on the nuclear issue.

QUESTION: Could you see yourself having discussions with Iran over Iraq without lumping in the nuclear issue? All I want to know is are the two --

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we have made clear where we will talk to Iran. We will talk to Iran in terms of negotiations in a P-5+1 forum if they meet certain conditions. We have channels of communication. We can exchange information. They're established and well known. So communication, again, isn't an issue. But there is -- on the nuclear issue, there is an established proposal that is out there. Thus far, the Iranians haven't taken us or the other members of the P-5+1 up on the offer.

QUESTION: So are the channels between the U.S. Ambassador in Iraq and Iran completely dead? Are you open to that channel again if it comes up?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, that particular channel of communication didn't work out in the past. There was an offer. It didn't work out.

QUESTION: Would you revisit it again, though?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, it is something that I'm sure would remain available. At the moment, there?s nothing to discuss on that topic.

QUESTION: What was the problem when you say it didn't work out?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we talked about this in the past, that there was an offer of a meeting. They came back and they didn't -- they wanted to have a different kind of discussion through that channel. That was a channel that was supposed to be talking about Iraq security. So for a variety of different reasons, the modalities and the interest didn't match up at that point in time.

Anything else on Iraq? Iran? Lambros.

QUESTION: On Greece.


QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, I need your help at this time to clear a mess, a real mess. This is a follow-up on an issue raised last week on the definition by your DCM in Athens Tom Countryman of minorities living in Greece -- and maybe the world -- and the Treaty of Lausanne. First, you may know this, the DCM in Athens seems determined, Mr. McCormack, to pursue the policy here which was familiar in the Balkans, namely he had to rebuke his national identity on the basis of (inaudible) religion. Now he expands the definition to include Albanian and other immigrant workers. Is the Department of State willing to allow foreigners to take (inaudible) and ethnic minorities? Why not support the establishment of (inaudible), Mexico and northern California? It means that it was (inaudible). All of these areas is clearly a model that Mr. Countryman supported in Bosnia and now in Greece. I'm wondering if you can make a comment.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to look into that for you. I haven't seen those comments. I --

QUESTION: You didn't see?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen his comments. You mentioned something about the Treaty of Lausanne in there?

QUESTION: Yes, exactly. The second question --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we continue to support the -- abide by the Treaty of Lausanne and its implementation.

QUESTION: He said exactly that there are ethnic Macedonians and Albanians who live in Greece. They are not the majority of the population. That?s a minority. Because with respect to the Treaty of Lausanne, which is the legal basis of the Greek interpretation but that it is not how the US interprets the term. We also think it would be appropriate for those minorities to have the right to self-identify which are not allowed to do in Greece. Do you agree?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we continue to abide by the Treaty of Lausanne and its implementation. And there is no change in our policy in that regard.

QUESTION: What's the reaction on South Korea's decision on PSI, the implementation of --

MR. MCCORMACK: They've apparently come out and said that at this point in time they don't want a formally participate in PSI. We respect that decision. They have, though, over the course of years, changed their point of view with respect to PSI, which is designed to be an informal collection of states using existing national and international laws to interdict the illicit trade in WMD and WMD technologies.

The PSI countries and South Korea have had a good cooperative dialogue in the past. We expect that that is going to continue. Should North* Korea see its way clear to at some point participate in PSI in a more formal manner, then we would welcome that. But again, this is a decision for the South Koreans to take. We do have full confidence on a separate issue that they will implement 1718, that they are serious about it, and that they will take all the steps that they need to take to implement that agreement.

QUESTION: Any worry or concern that it compromises the six-party talks or the stance that -- PSI --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't think so. I think that in the wake of North Korea's test, that there is a very clear consensus on a couple of things. One, that 1718 needs to be implemented and implemented fully and faithfully. And that, two, now we have the opportunity to -- for another round of six-party talks that we will want to create the atmosphere that it would be conducive to make progress on those talks. And what does that mean? That means actually getting down to concrete implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement, the framework agreement. So that's what we're looking for in this next round of talks. Nick Burns and Bob Joseph are just back from the region. They had a very good set of meetings in Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul. They also met with the Russians in Beijing. And that was the basic agenda, talking about 1718 implementation, then also how to have -- laying the groundwork with the other four members of the six-party talks on how to have a good next round of these talks so that they are -- you actually get to some concrete implementation.

QUESTION: Do you have any date yet for the six-party talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: No date yet.

QUESTION: Because I think the Japanese are saying that it's, you know, December some time.

MR. MCCORMACK: No date yet. I don't -- it's not going to be in November, I think it's safe to say. We're looking for it before the end of the year, so we would hope that maybe December is a time that all the parties could agree to get together.


QUESTION: No, not North Korea.

QUESTION: I think there were reports over the weekend in some Japanese news agencies about talks through the New York channel this week between U.S. officials and North Korea. Are you aware of that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I saw the news reports. Look, you know, this is the New York channel. On any given day there's some sort of contact, information being passed through the New York channel. But in terms of negotiating through the New York channel, no.

QUESTION: There no preparations for the talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: On any given day, there's communication through the New York channel.

Anything on North Korea? North Korea? Different topic? Okay. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: With regard to Ehud Olmert's visit in Washington, I understand that Secretary Rice met yesterday. I wonder if you'd talk a little --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. She had dinner with him.

QUESTION: Okay. I wonder if you could talk to us a little bit about the details of that meeting, if possible, if this meeting is part of getting the peace process back on the table? And second part to this question is last month Secretary Rice spoke to a gala dinner of Palestinian-Americans. And in her speech she was -- very emotional terms -- gave her commitment to a Palestinian state and ending the suffering of the Palestinians. I'm just wondering given the recent veto at the UN, can -- does the Secretary really believe that the U.S. can be an honest broker?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. The answer to that is absolutely. Absolutely. We -- this Administration has come out and was the first to explicitly state support for a Palestinian state -- Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel. We continue to work with -- very closely with President Abbas in building up his security forces. We provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.

On the other side, we work very closely with the Israeli Government to talk about their responsibilities under the roadmap and also to ease the daily plight of the Palestinian people. And what we would like to see is we'd like to see everybody getting back to the point where we can realize a political horizon where you solve differences via the negotiating table and not by firing rockets or sending people out to -- sending teenagers out to kill other teenagers. That's not the vision certainly Secretary Rice or this President has. So we are committed to trying to move the process forward. Part of what you need to see in order to get to that horizon is you need to have a Palestinian government -- that the Palestinian Authority Government is actually a partner for peace.

Now, I know that there's a lot of -- there are a lot of discussions among the Palestinians about how to arrange themselves politically and discussions about how they could meet, if possible, the requirements laid out by the Quartet which would make that Palestinian Authority Government a partner for peace. We believe we have a partner for peace in President Abbas, but you still need a Palestinian Authority that meets the requirements of the Quartet statement. Should you have that situation, then there are a lot of different possibilities and we are very much committed to trying to move that process forward.

QUESTION: Just as a quick follow-up, though, how do you get past the perception even just on the street level of the Palestinians who know how much money the U.S. gives to Israel, versus Palestine and feels that it's so skewed to one side versus the other?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, we did provide quite a bit of money to the Palestinian Authority prior to the election to Hamas.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) versus millions.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the U.S.-Israel aid program has its roots in another era, has its roots in the peace deal between Israel and Egypt. And we are also -- we're very close allies with Israel, so there's a wide spectrum of cooperation that was built up over decades there.

Certainly we would like to -- we would very much like to have a broad, deep relationship with a Palestine, with an independent Palestinian state. That's the President's vision. But there's a lot of -- there would be -- there's a lot of work and a lot of different things that would need to happen in order to realize that goal. We are now at the point where we're looking for a Palestinian government that could start that process, could start the process that would maybe someday end up with that goal and that -- where the Palestinian people could really realize all the things that I think everybody around the world wants. They want to be able to send their kids to school. They want to be able to realize a better way of life for themselves. They want to be able to build a better, safer, more prosperous community for themselves. That's what everybody wants and we believe that's what the Palestinian people want.

But they are going to have to resolve some of those fundamental contradictions about what sort of orientation will their government have and what their political process will look like.

QUESTION: So the (inaudible) yesterday really was an effort though of trying to get back to making -- and moving forward in that direction?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would say -- well, first of all, the Palestinian Authority needs to
-- the Palestinian people need to sort out a certain number of things for themselves politically.

The meeting was designed as a preparatory meeting for the President's meeting with Prime Minister Olmert. This is the usual, the standard practice, where Secretary Rice or Steve Hadley, the National Security Advisor, will have a pre-meeting and then -- before the meeting with the President. So it's designed to prepare for that meeting.

They talked about the range of bilateral issues and talked about the situation in the region more broadly, talked about Iran, talked about the potential horizon for the Israelis and the Palestinians. So, that was the general -- those were the general subject areas that they covered.

QUESTION: The Arab League this weekend decided to resume --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: It's again the Palestinian-Israeli relations.

MR. MCCORMACK: She's getting there, James.

QUESTION: I must be more patient.

QUESTION: The Arab League decided this weekend to resume their bank transfers to the Palestinian Authority. Will U.S. take actions against these --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll see what they end up doing. Certainly we have -- we fully support efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people and that we would continue to call upon all states to abide by the principles that were outlined in the Quartet statement.

Now, over the past year or so, even that has been -- since that has been in place, there have been
-- each state will have a varying -- various interpretations of the requirements of that, that particular statement. We would call upon the Arab states as well as other states to continue with their adherence to the principles and the spirit that were outlined in the Quartet statement.


QUESTION: Back on the Secretary's dinner. First of all, what kind of assessment of the situation in Gaza did the Prime Minister provide the Secretary?

MR. MCCORMACK: Those are private diplomatic conversations. I'm not going to get into those kinds of conversations. This was a meeting designed to set up the President's meeting with Prime Minister Olmert so, you know, again, that's another reason why I'm not going to get into it. It was a preparatory meeting. If the White House wants to get more into the substance of the conversation between the President and Prime Minister Olmert, you can look to those guys over there.

QUESTION: If only I had asked about their conversation. I'm asking about the Secretary's conversation with the Prime Minister. If you don't want to answer it, that's fine, but I'll try one more, which is: Did the Secretary reaffirm previous U.S. statements to the Prime Minister about the need to tackle illegal settlement activity.

MR. MCCORMACK: Our policy is unchanged on that.

QUESTION: Did it come up?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to get into reading out her meeting with the Prime Minister.

QUESTION: You can't even touch on subjects?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to -- I'm just not going to get into reading out the meeting.
Our policy on that is unchanged, though.

Yeah. Michel.

QUESTION: The leaders of Hamas and Fatah have agreed today on Mohammed Shabir, a candidate for prime minister. He is close to Hamas but he's not a member of Hamas. How do you assess this step?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I referred to in answering a previous question, there's a lot of ferment within the Palestinian political elites. They are trying to come to terms with the fact -- or they have come to terms with the fact, it would appear, that Hamas has failed in its attempts to govern. And now they are trying to reconcile themselves to that fact and to chart a way forward in terms of a potential new government. This is what I gather from the press reports.

As for the composition of any new government that is going to be for the Palestinians to decide. It is also going to be for the Palestinians to decide what will be the platform of that new government. So it would appear that they are moving along in that process, but not yet -- they have not yet finished it. So I would defer any final comment until we see the final outcome of that process.

Yes. Anything else on the Palestinians? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Once the new prime minister is in place and you know a little bit more about their platform, would that sort of trigger an assessment of where you are in terms of aid and whether you might look at resuming aid?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, if we have a qualitatively different set of facts and a qualitatively different situation, then of course you take a look at where your policy and where your aid programs are. We have said that all along. If you have a different kind of Palestinian government that meets the requirements of the Quartet statement, then you go back to -- and I emphasize go back to -- a potentially different kind of relationship that you had with the previous Palestinian Authority. But again, the specifics of that would depend on what the Palestinians do.

QUESTION: And would this be a decision that you would take within the context of the Quartet or would you take a decision on your own --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure that there would be some discussion between capitals and most likely among Quartet members. Whether that's in a more formal setting or an informal setting, I can't tell you. But we're getting ahead of ourselves now. We still don't have any qualitatively -- qualitative change to the situation.

Yes. Anything else on this, on this topic? Joel.

QUESTION: Sean, since our midterm elections last Tuesday, there are various groups and countries that are talking and stating that they would like to put together their own equivalent of the six-party talks in Asia, possibly nine- or ten-party talks. Under what conditions would you and the Secretary want to talk to either Hamas or Hezbollah, or would that just be off the table?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly there's no change in our policy. We're not -- those two groups that you mentioned are terrorist groups in our view so we don't plan to have any contact with them.

QUESTION: But if other countries or groups put together such talks, how would you then -- you would just shun them at those particular talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you're talking about something that's very non-specific and we would have to deal with specific details and facts. But there's no change in our policy with respect to Hamas and Hezbollah.


QUESTION: Sean, in Lebanon, some would say that the Hezbollah is using kind of brass-knuckle tactics in these negotiations going after veto power in that government. I wonder if you have any reflection on that process at the moment.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I understand it -- and again, I'm not going to get into the ins and outs of Lebanese politics -- but the basic issue that has triggered this round of turmoil within the Lebanese political system has been the question of a tribunal for trying those who may have been responsible for former Prime Minister Hariri's death, the assassination. My understanding is that the cabinet has approved the proposal and that it now goes back to the UN. The UN will act on it or not. And then if they act on it positively, then it would go back to the Lebanese parliament for approval. So there are many stages in this process.

It's very clear that there are some outside of Lebanon as well as inside Lebanon who don't want to see passage of this tribunal because either they themselves are worried that they may end up before such a tribunal or that their friends will end up before such a tribunal. And I think that that's really at the root of what you're seeing right now. You're seeing a political brewing crisis that has been brought about by the fact that some are very, very nervous, including in Damascus, about where this tribunal issue is going to head.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: And some say they might undermine the legitimacy and stability of the government. Do you have any comment on that development?

MR. MCCORMACK: That gets into Lebanese constitutional law and, you know, I'm not an expert in it, though people who follow these things very closely have said that it shouldn't have any effect at this point in time in the ability of this cabinet to be able to act both on day-to-day matters as well as more substantive policy issues.

QUESTION: (Off-mike).

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we have more.

QUESTION: Are you concerned though that the Siniora government is becoming sort of closer to collapse? I mean, the White House put out a statement a couple of weeks ago saying that you were really concerned about his safety and about the stability of the government. Do you think that moves such as this over the weekend, political moves, really weakened his hand?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, these are principled decisions that members of this cabinet took. Again, I would just initially shine the spotlight more on those who don't want to see this happen because this really comes down to some groups, some individuals, not wanting to see this tribunal process move forward, and I can't imagine other than they're nervous about themselves ending up before this tribunal or their friends ending up before this tribunal why they would want to stand in the way of finding out who was responsible for the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister.

Now the international community has taken up this issue because this is something that the Lebanese people had wanted and we fully support the investigation as well as bringing to justice those responsible for the murder of former Prime Minister Hariri.

So I think people really have to ask themselves the question of why people don't want to see this go forward, because this is the event and the subject that is really precipitated this latest round of turmoil in Lebanese politics.

QUESTION: One more on Chad.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on -- there's been -- there seems to be a worsening situation in Chad with the state of emergency --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it is -- it certainly is a source of concern and we're watching it closely. My understanding is that there was a state of emergency that was put into place in some of the regions, the outlying regions, and now it has been extended to N'Djamena itself.

We are concerned about the violence between various groups in Chad as well as in Darfur. It seems to be a bit of a spillover in that regard. You see similar kinds of conflicts, similar kinds of lines being drawn. So we are watching it very closely. I think that an important part of this, although the Chad situation will have its own dynamic, there are some linkages there, but a big part of ensuring the stability not only in Darfur but in adjoining areas as well is to see that this international force get into Sudan. And we are talking to friends and allies about that, talking to a number of Arab states about how to make that happen.

Yes, Sylvie.

QUESTION: I have a question on Nicaragua. The newly elected President Daniel Ortega has apparently sent some envoys here to open formal dialogue with U.S. Can you confirm this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you. I'll check for you, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Okay. And so I have a late question on Vietnam, I'm sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's okay. We've got time.

QUESTION: Vietnam, before the trip of the President there, freed one prisoner this weekend and it was a gesture toward U.S. Will U.S. make a gesture toward Vietnam before this trip? For example, withdrawing Vietnam from the list of countries of particular concern for religious freedom?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you're going to have a briefing on that at two o'clock and so I would --

QUESTION: But maybe --

MR. MCCORMACK: John Hanford. I'm not going to jump in front of John Hanford's news.

QUESTION: On John Bolton's nomination, has anything changed since last week's message?

MR. MCCORMACK: Still support him.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary working on that issue today? Is she calling senators?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if there are any calls today, but she fully supports John being up there. He's done a great job and we hope people take a look at his record to see what he's accomplished during a very difficult time up at the UN and take another look and give him an up or down vote in the Senate.

QUESTION: Do you have reasonable hope that they will take another look? It seems like all the messages coming from the Senate are that his nomination is dead.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we hope that they do. These -- it would be a real shame. He is somebody who is very dedicated to representing the best of the United States up there at the United Nations and really representing very well and with great skill the United States and the U.S. interests up in New York.

QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, one more follow-up?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, are you going to ask about the Treaty of Lausanne again?

QUESTION: I got the answer. Mr. McCormack, do you agree on whatever Mr. Countryman said about the so-called Macedonian and Albania minorities in Greece?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I haven't seen his remarks. We'll have somebody get back to it.

QUESTION: But one more question, any comment on Sunday's referendum in South Ossetia for full independence?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, I put out -- we put out a statement last week about that.

QUESTION: No, no, in his comment yesterday.

MR. MCCORMACK: We put out a statement recently about that didn't we?

QUESTION: But do you support it, yes or no?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. We don't think that it is -- called a so-called referendum. We have a statement for you. We'll put it out. Send it back to you again.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)

*South Korea

DPB # 183 

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