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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 4, 2007


No Individual Nominated for the Position of Deputy Secretary of State
Attributes of a Good Candidate for the Position
John Negroponte Doing Excellent Job as Director of National Intelligence
Secretary Will Remain Deeply Involved in Iraq Policy
Secretary's Schedule / Meetings at White House / President's Call to Maliki
Meeting at White House with Solana
Secretary's Upcoming Travel Schedule
Informing Governments/Financial Institutions About Nature of Iranian Institutions
Chapter 7 Resolution Requirements / Continuing Conversations with Allies
Secretary Will Devote Much Time to this Issue / Two State Solution
Past Efforts to Achieve a Settlement
Opening for Peace / Partners in Abbas and Olmert
Iran and Syria Obstacles for Peace
Political Contradictions within the Current Palestinian System
Need for Functioning Institutions in the Palestinian State
Desire Among Neighbors in the Region to Move Forward / Role
Next Trip Will Focus on How We May Partner Together to Move Forward
Ongoing Review / Primary National Security Issue
International Effort to End Two Decades Worth of Chaos
Assistant Secretary Frazer's Work with the Contact Group
Financial Assistance to Somalia / Need for Secure Environment
Assistance Secretary Frazer's Meeting/Travel Schedule
Dangerous Security Environment / Need for Security Force
Initial Pledge of Funds for Somalia
Assistant Secretary Hill's Meeting with Foreign Minister
Export Duty Imposed by Russia on Belarus / Rotten Core of Belarus Regime
Importance of Developing Multiple Sources of Energy Supply
U.S. Representation at Lebanon Donor's Conference


1:18 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have any opening statements so we can get right into your questions, whoever wants to starts.

QUESTION: I'd like to -- may I start with a couple of questions about the incoming Deputy Secretary. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Nice try, Barry.

QUESTION: We're trying now to help somebody put together a story on this. (Laughter.) He has vast background --

MR. MCCORMACK: Helping Barry and I put together just a small story on --

QUESTION: Well, you know, through the years -- I've been here a few years -- there are a variety of roles that are assigned to -- sometimes a funeral role and sometimes, in the case of people like Armitage, you know, a very close role working in tandem virtually with the Secretary. Enough of what I think, but the point is that he has vast background in Iraq particularly as well as --

MR. MCCORMACK: And who is this?

QUESTION: The guy that's supposed to be coming in.


QUESTION: Can you tell us if that's one of the strong recommendations for him that he will have a lot to do with Iraq policy?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I have to back up a couple of steps.


MR. MCCORMACK: Because you're talking about the personnel issue of who will be named the next Deputy Secretary of State.


MR. MCCORMACK: Who will be nominated and go through the confirmation process.


MR. MCCORMACK: We do not yet have somebody nominated for that. I know that there have been a lot of newspaper stories about John Negroponte perhaps being nominated. I'm not in a position at this time to confirm that for you. We're going to have to wait for personnel announcements, and those types of high-level personnel announcements likely come out of the White House. So that's our baseline.

QUESTION: You've said that.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's our baseline. In terms of the job, the Secretary is looking for somebody who is going to be able to handle policy issues in their own right, have their own policy portfolios. So that means somebody obviously with a great deal of experience not only in Washington but also abroad; somebody who when they travel abroad, when that person meets with foreign interlocutors they know that that person will be speaking on behalf of the Secretary and on behalf of the President; somebody who has strong management capabilities. There are certain responsibilities that come along with the role of Deputy Secretary in the State Department system, so somebody who has strong management capabilities; somebody who knows how to work within the State Department system, both the Civil Service and Foreign Service; somebody who has good judgment, a steady hand; somebody who when the Secretary is out of the country and not able to attend meetings can attend meetings on her behalf, including with the President. So clearly, looking for somebody with a great deal of experience and background in foreign policy and as well as management.

So that's -- those are the very rough outlines of the kind of person that she is -- she and the President are looking for to fill this important role. We have almost in every corner of the globe high-stakes issues right now and so you need somebody -- an extremely capable, solid person to be the number two here at the State Department. So that's the kind of person that she's looking for, you know.

As I said before, I'm not in a position at this point to confirm any particular names for you. You mentioned John Negroponte has come up. Certainly he is a person who is a diplomat's diplomat. He is somebody of excellent, excellent judgment, long experience both in Washington and abroad, very well respected among members of the international community, he knows the international community, is somebody who really knows how to get things done. So certainly he is quite an accomplished person and currently doing an excellent job working for the President as Director of National Intelligence.

QUESTION: Iraq has special priority, doesn't it? I mean, there are lots of tough issues but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she's -- the Secretary is equally involved in Iraq policymaking and consulting with our Ambassador there, Zal Khalilzad, as well as the team in Baghdad, so she spends quite a bit of time on the issue of Iraq, and particularly now so that we have an ongoing review. The President is meeting and working with his top-level advisors to chart a new forward in Iraq, so she's been obviously spending a lot of time on Iraq recently.

In terms of what portfolios the new Deputy Secretary of State may have, I think we're going to wait until we actually have an actual person to talk about so we can attach portfolios to that person. Clearly, the Secretary is interested in matching up experience and skill sets with the various issue areas, and I'm sure the Secretary will have those conversations with the new Deputy Secretary of State nominee when that person is announced as to what portfolios they might take on.

QUESTION: Is it not fair to say, without prejudice, as to who might be the Deputy Secretary that Iraq is a matter of such primacy it's not as if she's going to delegate that to somebody else?

MR. MCCORMACK: She's going to remain deeply involved in Iraq policymaking, absolutely. The extent to which others will assist her, take on various parts of Iraq policy, that will depend again on the nominee, who that person is and their skill set and their experiences. But she will remain deeply involved in Iraq policy.

QUESTION: Sean, did she participate in the President's phone call with Maliki today? The White House said that he was -- Bush spoke to Maliki for about an hour and 45 minutes.

MR. MCCORMACK: She -- I don't know. She has had some meetings over at the White House. This morning she met with Mr. Solana and then there was a lunch over at the White House with Mr. Solana -- I think with Mr. Hadley, National Security Advisor, Secretary Rice and Mr. Solana -- and she has been over at the White House for some meetings. I can't say whether or not she was actually on the phone call or in the room with the President while he was talking with Mr. Maliki.

QUESTION: Sean, can you give us a readout of the meeting with Solana, please?

MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't attend it, but I do know the list of issues that they talked about. They talked about Iran, obviously. We have just passed Resolution 1737 so there's a discussion now to be held as to what the next steps are with respect to Iran. The ball is really in their court right now in terms of their behavior. Every indication now is that they intend to continue down the pathway that they said they were going to pursue, and that is developing the capabilities to enrich uranium to high levels. So that was part of the conversation.

I believe they talked about Somalia, talked a little bit about Sudan, talked about Afghanistan. They talked a little bit about Kosovo. So really the whole range of issues. His visit here is part of a beginning of the year visit that you might normally expect between the foreign policy representative of the EU and our Secretary of State just to take stock of where we are and what the plans are for the next year.

It also coincides with Chancellor Merkel's visit here. She's -- Germany is going to be taking over the presidency of the EU for the first six months of the year. They also by coincidence will be -- have leadership of the G-8 for this year. And Chancellor Merkel is in town. She's going to be meeting with the President later on today.

So it's really a round of discussions today to talk with the leadership team of the EU foreign policy apparatus to talk about the various issues that are before us, important issues that are before us, and what it is that each of us can do and how we can make progress on those issues.

QUESTION: Did they speak about Middle East and the trip the Secretary is supposed to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, they did. They did about it. I'm sorry, left that one out. They did talk about the Middle East, yeah.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Iran?


QUESTION: Nick Burns on the -- when the resolution was passed talked about this idea of going out and convincing Europeans, Japan and others to convince their banks to stop lending to Iran, to go beyond what's in the UN Security Council resolution. I'm wondering if that was brought up today with Solana and what sort of diplomatic moves are you taking to follow up on that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, what are the next steps. Like I said, I wasn't in the meeting so I can't tell you for sure whether or not that came up. I can tell you that general issue of informing foreign governments, as well as financial institutions, about the nature of those Iranian entities with which they may be doing business or may be thinking about doing business, it's really by way of providing them information about the true nature of those entities, where -- what sort of businesses they may actually be involved in. The Iranians have a really very sophisticated set of arrangements in terms of front companies for their missile and WMD programs.

It's also to -- we also talked to them about U.S. laws, the applicability of those laws, mainly to inform them about what those laws are and what the requirements of U.S. laws are. And we've been doing this for some time, probably over the past, I don't know, nine -- six to nine months or so intensively. But previously, Treasury has been involved in doing this over the course of time on a regular basis. Under Secretary of Treasury Stuart Levey has really led those efforts.

So we've had those conversations fairly intensively with the Europeans, the Japanese, as well as others over a period of time. We are now in a different phase where you have a Chapter 7 resolution and it has certain requirements for member states of the UN, vis--vis Iran and their nuclear and missile activities. So I would expect that those conversations that we've had about the Iranians' attempts to use the international financial institutions for the purposes of further developing their WMD and missile programs are going to continue.

I know it's something that's been on the mind of the Secretary and I would expect that if she didn't raise it today with Mr. Solana, that she will, in subsequent conversations with him as well as other European leaders, talk about that. I would expect others, Mr. Levey, Nick Burns, Bob Joseph, others to continue those conversations. And we ourselves have also started to take some initial steps, vis--vis some Iranian financial institutions. We've cut off their ability to do so-called u-turn transactions with a couple of Iranians' ability -- Iranian banks' abilities to do those u-turn transactions using U.S. institutions.

QUESTION: Solana gave a brief account of his conversations and a handful of us were downstairs this morning, and he's going to the Middle East, she's going to the Middle East, not simultaneously. Are you -- I know you're not ready to make an announcement, but can you sharpen a bit what her plans look like? Will she -- he brought up Lebanon when we asked about the Middle East, which sort of raised the question in our minds whether she's going there, too. There's an economic conference on the 25th in Paris.

MR. MCCORMACK: Paris, right.

QUESTION: But most important to me is that I asked him if he was optimistic about Arab-Israeli peacemaking, and he didn't speak for her, but he said, "The word I would prefer to use is 'realistic.'" He didn't buy into some sense of optimism. Do you want to touch any of those stuff -- any of those things? What's her mood? Is she (inaudible) and when might she go and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, a couple --

QUESTION: This month we know.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. A couple practical matters. I would expect in the near future that she probably will travel to the Middle East. We'll keep you up to date on the dates. We're sort of working with governments with which we might have meetings, places we might visit, so we're working through all that right now, doing all the logistics. We'll try to get you the dates in the not-too-distant future.

So she has very clearly staked out and you heard from her at the end of last year that she has a great interest and she is going to devote a great deal of time, energy and focus to this issue. Because the way she sees it, Barry, is that there is a potential opening here to make progress on the issue of a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security. So there is an opportunity.

Obviously, there are a lot of things -- there are a lot of things -- many, many things -- that would need to happen in order to actually achieve that goal. And it's been a goal that many, many have tried in the region, from the U.S. Government, from various other governments, and there has been over the decades some progress that has been made, some attempts to reach final settlements, and despite the best efforts of, you know, past presidents, past foreign -- past secretaries of state, have not been achieved.

So I think that she certainly has a healthy understanding for the history there, what the issues are, what the obstacles are. Yet she does see at this point in time this opening. You do have a partner for peace in President Abbas on the Palestinian side. Clearly, you have a partner for peace in Prime Minister Olmert. There are obstacles. You have an Hamas government that is not willing to meet the standards that the international community has demanded of them in terms of their policies and their behaviors. That's too bad for the -- right now for the Palestinian people. It is an obstacle for their hope of achieving a Palestinian state, Palestine.

There are other obstacles, very clearly, in the region. You have states like Iran and Syria that are 180 degrees about face from the rest of the region, which has an interest in seeing some progress made on the Israeli-Palestinian issue as well as in seeing a stable, peaceful, democratic Lebanon, as well as seeing a more stable Iraq that is able to sustain, govern and defend itself. So I would expect on her trip, Barry, that she is going to talk about that whole range of issues. And I would expect that this trip is really going to be about sitting down with her counterparts, sitting down with leaders in the region, and really taking stock of the situation and exploring what are the possibilities and how is it that we collectively can work together to further progress towards the goals that I think everybody shares.

And I outlined those: seeing a Lebanon that is peaceful, stable, and democratic; seeing progress made on an Israeli-Palestinian political solution; in seeing if there are ways to help the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people help themselves to achieve a more stable, secure situation in Iraq.

QUESTION: Sean, can I follow up on that? What perplexes some people is why there would be a moment of opportunity when there is no consensus among the Palestinians about going forth with negotiations with the Israelis. Prime Minister Abbas you described as a partner for peace, but he doesn't lead the government, he doesn't even control much of the territory, witness the fact that the U.S. Government is devoting significant time and money to helping arm his forces.

So why is there -- why do you feel there's a significant opportunity here when at least on one side of the equation, the Palestinian side, there simply isn't consensus on peace, let alone a single authority who controls the territory you can negotiate with?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the way I put it is that there is an opening and that's how the Secretary looks at it. There's an opening. There are possibilities here. A lot of work needs to be done to exploit the possibilities that do exist. Now you've gone down the list of the obstacles. Those are very clearly -- that they are there. Among the Palestinians, I think among the political elite and the political leadership, there's very clearly a difference of opinion.

Now they -- one of the prerequisites for really making progress on a political horizon between the Israeli and Palestinians is the Palestinians sorting out the political differences that you've talked about. Now there have been several attempts over the past six months to do that. The discussions between President Abbas and Hamas in trying to form a government of national unity; those, thus far, have failed. And President Abbas is -- I think, as he has described it, out of frustration, said that he's going to call for new elections at some point early this year. I don't think he set a date yet, but probably -- you know, over the next several months.

So yes, the Palestinians coming to some sort of resolution about the political contradictions within their current political system is -- will be a prerequisite to really make progress down the pathway of the two-state solution. Now that doesn't mean that in the interim, you cannot work with those who are partners for peace, those who have an interest in resolving differences through dialogue and be at the negotiating table as opposed to through the use of violence and terror, that you can't work with them, President Abbas as well as some of the institutions and people around him.

That's what we're doing right now, working to try to shore up those institutions, because regardless of when you do get to a Palestinian state, whether that is in the relatively near future or the far distant future, you are still going to need to have those functioning institutions of a Palestinian state that could serve the Palestinian people and provide them security as well as other sorts of infrastructure support.

So you continue working on those while the Palestinians work through the fundamental political contradictions that they now have. You do have a situation where Hamas have clearly failed to govern. I think that -- I don't think you're going to find any difference of opinion on that. They have failed to meet the bar that they set for themselves. And so the Palestinian -- there's a great deal of ferment within the Palestinian system. I think the Palestinian people, we believe, want the same thing that everybody else does. They want to be able to send their kids to school, they want to be able to go to work, they want to be able to better themselves and build a better -- you know, a better governing -- set of governing institutions for themselves. We want to support that. But they do -- they have work to do in this, as do the Israelis, as do others.

And I know this is a long answer, but just one other piece to what you were talking about, and that is there is very clearly a role and a desire among the neighbors in the region and I'm talking some of the leading Arab states in the region like Jordan, like Egypt, like Saudi Arabia as well as some of the Gulf countries, in seeing if those possibilities that exist between the Israelis and the Palestinians might be exploited and might be -- exploited in a positive sense so that you can move forward. So there is a clear sense and desire there to try to move forward. Now, what you have to do is translate that will and desire into actual action, and I think that that is pat of what the Secretary has been doing in her discussions with, among others, the GCC + 2 and will continue, I think, probably on this next trip. So this next trip is going to be more of intensive discussions and really sort of doing a deep dive on what are the possibilities and how might we partner together to move forward.

Yeah, Charlie.

QUESTION: To turn the coin on some of that, are you aware of the move today by the Israelis into Ramallah? And what do actions like that do to -- I mean, what you talked about is a clear sense or desire to move forward, but this would seem an opposite kind of step.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I've asked about this, Charlie, and, frankly, I don't have all the information as to what exactly the objective and the purpose of the Israeli operation was. My understanding was it was very limited in scope. So I don't have all the facts. I can't -- so I can't really make an assessment at this point.

QUESTION: Sean, about the --

QUESTION: Have you talked to the Israelis? Excuse me.

MR. MCCORMACK: Our guys are talking to the Israelis. We -- I just don't have --

QUESTION: From here or out there?

MR. MCCORMACK: Out there.

QUESTION: I just had a question about the timing of her -- the timing of her trip to the Middle East. It's been rumored that she's waiting until Bush speaks for her to depart for the region. Is that timing based on anything that the President might lay out in his speech as far as her role or, you know, how should we look at those two things together?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think there is probably -- there is a relationship there in that she wants to -- she obviously wants to be here while the President is working through all the various policy options and having discussions with top advisors. Iraq is clearly a primary foreign policy and national security issue, if not the most important issue that we face today. So she wants -- obviously wants to be involved in those conversations and she wants to be there in case the President does want to call on her, consult with her. And so that if you were looking for a linkage, I think that's really it in terms of the process. She wants to be here right up until all the i's are dotted and the t's crossed.

QUESTION: But then this trip should be viewed as a separate entity, not something that the President is going to say, look, Condoleezza Rice will now be doing --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, that's the President's prerogative, so we'll have to wait to see what the President says in his remarks.

QUESTION: She's not going anywhere till his speech though, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, she won't.


QUESTION: Sean, questions about Somalia. In the aftermath, today you have a communiqu from the Secretary saying you're going to offer humanitarian assistance, but in addition Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer is over in that Horn of Africa. Now, up until now there's been lawlessness in Somalia. You have had these Islamic Courts. And are you putting together a plan with perhaps the Europeans and the AU so that there isn't the same aftermath such as what's befallen in Iraq with religious militias and such? What steps are you taking with the AU, UN, EU to end that particular conflict?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Somalia is a very difficult situation for the Somali people. As the Secretary said in her statement, they've had two decades worth of violence, war, humanitarian crises, warlordism and essentially chaos. The governing structures are either nonexistent or very, very weak.

Our intent in working with the Somalia Contact Group -- and I have to emphasize that this will be -- this is an international, truly international, effort. We, of course, are going to play our part, but this will be an international effort. Jendayi is going to be meeting on -- tomorrow, on Friday, with the Contact Group to talk about a few different baskets. You know, one, how can you help on the humanitarian situation? We've announced today several million dollars worth of humanitarian assistance as a way to try to immediately get at some of the needs that exist in Somalia right now. You have to declare a security piece there because as we have learned in many different places, it's very difficult to nurture governing institutions, civil society at the most basic levels if you don't have a secure environment. So obviously you need to think about how that gets done. That's clearly going to be an issue that they discuss at the Somalia Contact Group.

In the immediate term, you have the Ethiopian forces there. They have stated that they're not going to stay there forever which is positive, because neither they nor anybody else wants them to be there as a long-term solution. We also support right now the deployment of IGASOM. This would be a primarily Ugandan force to start that transition from the current situation to something else. But clearly, there are going to be substantial needs on the security front so that you have to start that discussion.

And then the last bit is working with those participants in the Somalian political culture who want to play a positive role and help build up these governing institutions, how can we help support the transitional governmental institutions. So that's what we are going to be talking about in the Somali Contact Group. That's what Jendayi is over there doing. She did some of that work already in Addis Ababa talking with the Ethiopians, talking with President Musevini of Uganda. She also had some other meetings there. I think she was trying to meet with a representative from the AU as well. So that's a little outline of what we're doing now. She's going travel -- to keep traveling over the weekend to both Yemen and Djibouti.

QUESTION: And how confident after her meeting yesterday, or today I guess with Museveni, (inaudible) build a real quick IGASOM force and how quickly will it --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have a readout. But they're -- they have some capabilities, but you're talking about a force of -- I don't know, 1,200 or on that order, something like that -- in deploying to a city, Mogadishu, or in the environs where you have several million people. So clearly you're going to need a more robust -- some more robust force to help provide security. I'm not trying to prejudge what that might be at this point. And the -- in the immediate term, the Ugandans are also going to need some assistance in terms of financial resources, I think, for deploying those forces. So those are all questions that we're trying to find answers to right now. And that's one of the points of the Somalia Contact Group.

QUESTION: Will you help to provide financial backing to this force?

MR. MCCORMACK: To the IGASOM force? We're taking a look to see what we might do. The Secretary also spoke this morning with German Foreign Minister Steinmeier and I think the Germans also have an interest in seeing on the international front what can be done to help support that initial deployment. But I -- at this point, I don't think we have anything down on paper in terms of money ready to be committed, but we're taking a look at it.

QUESTION: There's been suggestions --

QUESTION: Are you looking at logistics?

QUESTION: It's been suggested -- I'm terribly sorry. There's been suggestions that the Islamists made a tactical retreat and that they may launch an insurgency, that there might still be thousands left in the capital. How concerned are you about this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, we -- first of all, we don't have forces there. But as a matter of looking at the overall security situation with an eye towards, well, how do you develop a viable political entity in Somalia, yeah, it's a concern. Thus far, the leadership of the Islamic Courts has really not shown much stomach to stand and fight. They have fled while they have left, you know, teenagers to stand up to the Ethiopian forces. So I can't tell you what the intent of the leadership of the Islamic Courts might be. But clearly, you know, it's a dangerous security environment.


QUESTION: I guess what I'm asking is the Ugandans are promised a thousand to two thousand troops. Would that be enough?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I think over the -- clearly over the long term that you're going to need something more substantial than that.

QUESTION: Could you tell (inaudible) of the things you are looking at in terms of assistance you might pledge IGASOM: logistics, communication, supplies, money? Are those all things you're looking at or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think -- yeah, I think we'll look at how we might support the work of others. You know, you mentioned a bunch of different areas. I think that those all might be possibilities, but again, I caution that no decisions or commitments have been made in that regard.

QUESTION: And also for -- let's talk about immediate assistance to the Somalis. Is it -- what kind of additional assistance do you know about?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've -- what you want to do -- I mean, there is -- there are clear humanitarian needs between the aftereffects of the conflict, as well as the recent flooding that has taken place in Somalia over the past couple months. So you want to get basic, basic humanitarian supplies to them, whether that's food or basic shelter for these people or medicines, that type of stuff. I mean, they -- I think they pretty much need everything at this point. So we're doing what we can to help provide that and we're going to certainly need others to step up as well.

QUESTION: Back to the amount announced this morning. Is it the full amount of what you want to spend?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that it's also -- that's also in the Secretary's statement. This is an initial donation, I guess is the right word, and you can expect that we're going to be seeking to pledge additional funds across those various baskets that I was talking about. But at this point, we don't have any decisions or commitments on those funds. We'll try to keep you up to date on it.


QUESTION: Do you have a readout of this morning's meeting that Ambassador Hill had with the South Korean Foreign Minister?

MR. MCCORMACK: I talked to them a little bit. It's pretty basic. They had breakfast together and they talked about the six-party talks, how to move that process forward, talked a little bit about Korean-American bilateral relations. I guess you should look at their meeting really as one in preparation for the Secretary's meeting with the Foreign Minister tomorrow.

QUESTION: Did you get anything on the Belarusian imposing a tariff on --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, looked into it and as I understand it, what happened is as part of the deal that Russia and Belarus, or Gazprom and Belarus signed at the -- you know, kind of stroke of midnight on the 31st, the Russians also imposed a export duty on oil that they sent to Belarus. And this was a -- previously, there was no export duty and it's on the order of $50 or something like that.

Well, anyway, what -- apparently, the past practice of the Belarusian regime had been to take that oil free from that export duty, refine it, and then sell it at a clear profit overseas. And so what the Belarusian Government is now trying to do is pass along -- you know, they're still trying to keep their skim while they export this oil, so it's just another example -- it's the rotten core of this regime, which they are using these resources for the personal profit of those around the leadership of the Lukashenka regime.

QUESTION: I don't know if you were asked since -- you know, December 31st when they reached the agreement, but I believe also as part of that agreement, the Belarusian authorities are essentially ceding a large ownership stake in their --


QUESTION: -- pipelines to Gazprom. Do you have just a simple comment on the nature of that agreement and whether this fits into a Russian pattern of sort of pushing its neighbors around to try to extend part of this national --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Joel, very clearly, they are trying to use their energy resources as a political lever and most especially with those neighbor states. We saw it with Ukraine last year. We saw it with Georgia. We see it with Belarus now. And it's a very -- it's a lesson about the importance of maintaining and developing multiple sources of energy supply as well as multiple means to convey those energy supplies.

Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary considering attending the Lebanon conference in Paris since the timing on the 25th --


QUESTION: -- comes like, a few days after the President's speech and this is --

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't have any final announcements on that, Samir, but she's inclined to, I think. She wants to do everything she can to attend that Paris conference, but we'll have a final statement for you at some point here in the coming days or weeks.



QUESTION: Coming back to some of the other Prime Minister's meetings. Did they talk about NATO mission in Afghanistan and NATO in -- to Iraq? And of course, about Turkey's in the process.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. On the last part, I don't know. Like I said, I wasn't in the meeting. I didn't get a full readout. They did talk about Afghanistan, yes, and the NATO mission there and the NATO role there. And on the other NATO in --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Iraq.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware that any -- they had any talks like that.

QUESTION: Sean, I'd like to go back to Negroponte. I know you can't go into detail. Could you just describe his previous experience in Iraq and what he could possibly bring to the job in that regard if he were to take it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he was former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and so he has on-the-ground experience. He knows the players. He knows how our operation on the ground works in Iraq. As Director of National Intelligence, he obviously has a very good insight to all the information, public as well as highly classified, concerning Iraq and therefore has an excellent window into the current situation there. Briefs the President every single day on intelligence issues, including on Iraq, and he has also been part of the review process that has been ongoing for the past several weeks that the President's been involved with. So he is -- fair to say, fully steeped and up to speed on Iraq issues.

QUESTION: Okay. Did he beat out a lot of other candidates?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nice try.


QUESTION: Sean, do you have any updates with the Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian transit in the U.S. next week?


QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)

DPB # 2

Released on January 4, 2007

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