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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 1, 2007


Warrants for Arrest in al-Masri Case / Department of Justice
U.S. Working Well With Germany and EU on Quartet
Oil Drilling and Exploration Rights on Continental Shelf off of Cyprus
U.S. Urges Parties to Work with UN on Conflict
President Chirac's Remarks on Iran's Nuclear Threat
U.S. and France in Agreement on Strategic Objectives for Iran
Investigation of Karbala Attack Ongoing / Too Early to Draw Conclusions
U.S. Working to Resolve Dispute between Israelis and Palestinians
Moderate States Working Toward Peace in Region
Egyptian, Saudi Arabian Efforts / Other States Committed to Violence
Hamas Must Reconcile Contradiction of Terror and Political Participation
Palestinians Must Build Governing Institutions / Israelis Must Work on Day-to-Day Issues
Quartet Efforts in Context of Roadmap
Secretary Rice's Initiative to Mobilize Nations in Region for Peace
Upcoming Visit of Egyptian Delegation
Human Rights Issues in Egypt / Ayman Nour Case / Videos of Torture
Name Dispute with Greece / Accession Talks with EU and NATO
U.S. Working Actively with Ahtisaari on Final Status for Kosovo
Selection of President Kufuor as Chairman
Accreditation of First Ambassador to AU, Cindy Courville
Somalis Must Bring as Many Factions as Possible into Political Process / International System to Deploy IGASOM Force to Help Somali Institutions
U.S. Representation in Somalia
Expansion of Hezbollah into Latin America, Tri-Boarder Region


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12:30 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. It's your second briefing of the day.

QUESTION: Third, this morning.

MR. MCCORMACK: Third -- oh, gaggle, all right. We'll throw the gaggle in as a briefing.

No opening statements, so who wants to start us off?

QUESTION: Since I've already been to those first two briefings, I know everything.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. (Laughter.) That's it, Charlie. Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have anything today on the German arrest warrant? Yesterday you said you weren't aware of them, it was only press reports. Have you actually received --

MR. MCCORMACK: Which -- oh, the warrants?


MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure what interaction our Embassy has had with the local prosecutor. I can't tell you. You tripped me up on that one. We're obviously going to look at the details of this and any sort of response to the legal charges or legal issues that are involved and surround this -- surround these warrants, are going to be addressed by the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: Do you think this will be on the agenda when the Secretary meets with Germany's Foreign Minister tomorrow?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that we'll bring it up, but if he brings it up of course the Secretary will be ready to discuss it.

QUESTION: Have you had any -- has this impacted your diplomacy at all recently? You know, some reports suggest that this has clouded U.S. diplomatic efforts with European countries.

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. I think you have Quartet meetings -- demonstration of the fact that we're working very well with Germany as well as the EU. They're both going to be represented there at the Quartet meeting, so I see no indication whatsoever of that.

QUESTION: So what is the U.S. policy usually when there is this kind of legal action against --

MR. MCCORMACK: The Department of Justice represents the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: No, but do you present the people who are charged? Usually they do go to the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the lawyers over at Justice are the ones who respond on behalf of the U.S. Government. The State Department may serve as a pass through any sort of -- if any sort of legal responses that are -- written legal responses that the State Department may pass those back and forth. But DOJ are the ones who handle representation of the U.S. Government whenever you have this sort of matter.

Go ahead, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Would you have some details on this role between Cyprus and Turkey on this oil dispute?

MR. MCCORMACK: Whether --

QUESTION: Do you know if -- first, can you confirm that there are some naval -- that Turkey increased its naval presence?

MR. MCCORMACK: Has moved some ships around?


MR. MCCORMACK: They could well have. I can't confirm that for you. You can talk to the Turkish Government about their movement of naval assets.

The immediate issue involves oil drilling rights, oil exploration rights, and then it gets -- very quickly gets into complicated legal issues concerning delimitation of the shelf that is around Cyprus and in the eastern Mediterranean. This stuff is extremely complex and lawyers and policymakers and politicians have been -- have wrapped themselves around this for many, many years. There's no resolution to it, so they'll continue to work on that.

What we would urge is that the parties refrain from any actions that might be interpreted by the other side; that there be full transparency so that you don't have any misunderstandings that might result in mishaps. And ultimately what needs to happen is the parties should get back to the root causes of the dispute. And the pathway, we believe to that, is open via the UN. Under Secretary General Gambari has made some proposals in this regard and we would urge the parties to look at those seriously.

QUESTION: Did you get in touch with Turkey?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. I don't think -- I'm not aware that we've had any contact with them on it.

QUESTION: Sean, what's your reaction to remarks by French President Chirac, which he subsequently sought to retract, that if Iran had a bomb or two it wouldn't be such a big deal?

MR. MCCORMACK: We talked a little bit about this in the morning in the gaggle. Look, I understand President Chirac has revised and extended his remarks. We take those remarks at face value and the fact that they represent the position of the French Government, we see eye to eye on the strategic objectives in not allowing Iran to obtain the technologies that would let them develop a nuclear weapon. We both understand, as well as the other members of the P-5+1, the Security, Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would be a terribly destabilizing event for the Middle East. We believe that, the French Government believes that and there's no daylight between the two of us on the issue.

QUESTION: But if you take seriously what he said the first time, the President of France doesn't believe that and one or two nuclear weapons would not be such a problem for him.

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, the French Government has officially revised and extended President Chirac's remarks and as I said this morning I think we all deserve a mulligan every now and then. So we are going to take his revised and extended remarks at face value.


QUESTION: Still on this, President Chirac didn't say that he didn't mean what he said. He said he thought he was on off-the-record.

MR. MCCORMACK: You are venturing into flagellum equus mortuus territory, Nicholas.

QUESTION: Wow. (Laughter.) My Latin isn't very good.

MR. MCCORMACK: We will rule out that moniker as you persist in these questions. But go ahead.


MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have -- I likely don't have anything more to say on the topic, but please proceed.

QUESTION: The point is, you know, the head of state of one of the EU-3, one of the Security Council permanent members, says something that is very serious. He's talking about a nuclear bomb that Iran is, as you say, trying to develop and that this would not be as big of a deal as everybody in the Security Council has said for years that it would. So yes, they said that he doesn't represent the French policy, but he's the head of state. I really don't understand how you can be comfortable with a revision of his statement, when he said something completely different to begin with.

MR. MCCORMACK: Nicholas, what the French Government has said is that his revised remarks represent their policy views and we take that at face value.

QUESTION: So you think that the President of France is isolated in the decision-making community of France?

MR. MCCORMACK: Anybody else have a question here?


QUESTION: I need to ask you about this incidence in Karbala. And military sources have said to Fox that now at least two senior Iraqi generals are suspected of involvement in this. Do you have any reaction to this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have seen the news reports. I talked to the folks over at DOD. They emphasized to me that they are still in the middle of their investigation. They have not come to any conclusions. Yesterday it was the Iranians who were responsible for this. Today it was two Iraqi generals. I would advise everybody to step back, take a deep breath, let the investigation proceed. It's a serious matter. And this sort of speculation out in public doesn't help a serious investigation reach serious conclusions. And the families of those soldiers who died are owed that. So we're not going to get involved in any sort of speculation. And what we're going to do is we're going to wait for the investigation to be completed.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense of when this might come out? There seems to be mounting pressure for us to hear something.

MR. MCCORMACK: The investigators are going to take the time that they need in order to gather all the facts and reach what they believe are sound conclusions. I don't think anybody should try to rush them in that.

QUESTION: But hypothetically speaking if the Iraqi military was involved in this kind of thing, wouldn't this be absolutely explosive? I mean, the key components of this new strategy in Iraq is for the U.S. and the Iraqis to work very, very, closely together. That was a huge amount -- there should be a huge amount of trust between them. Wouldn't this be absolute -- wouldn't this just wreck the whole thing?

MR. MCCORMACK: I -- look, I appreciate your asking the question. I understand why you're asking it, but I'm just not going to venture into that territory.


QUESTION: It's kind of in advance of the Quartet tomorrow. There's been a lot of talk about this axis -- by the Secretary of this axis of moderates versus this kind of axis of extremists.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think she's used the word "axis."

QUESTION: Club, group, whatever. I don't remember what her --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: -- exact terminology, but there's been a --

MR. MCCORMACK: He's the President, by the way.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) And this kind of group of moderates, you know, mainly is fighting this group of extremists, most importantly Iran. And you know, this group of moderates is including Israel and all of the Arab states. And I was just wondering if you think that this creates new opportunities for Israel in terms of relations with Arab states or do you think that Iran now is eclipsing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the region as like the main threat and the main problem to resolve?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, a couple things. One, trying to make progress on resolving the dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians is something in its own right that we have an interest in, that other states in the region have an interest in. This is a conflict that's gone on for decades and we have outlined our vision for how to resolve the dispute. It is a matter now of working with the parties, mobilizing the support of the international community and states in the region to try to exploit the opening that we believe exists in the region.

And by the way, we're not alone in that assessment. Other states in the region, others with an interest in seeing the dispute resolved peacefully agree that there is a moment here, that there is an opening that can be exploited. It is not a foregone conclusion that we will be able to make substantial progress. That will require the concerted efforts of the United States, other actors in the international system, and most importantly, the concerted effort by the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Secretary Rice has outlined how she envisions, at least in the near term, this process unfolding. It begins with the beginning of a discussion between the Israelis and the Palestinians, between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas about the political horizon. At the same time, you want to start working on those day-to-day issues on the Palestinian side, institution-building on the Israeli side, working with them to address some of the concerns the Palestinians have, the daily -- some of the daily irritants of Palestinian life, addressing issues of checkpoints, et cetera. That all has to be done within the context of making sure that anything that's done is properly accounted for on the security front.

As for the changed situation in the region, we believe that in the wake of the Hezbollah-Israel war, that there is the beginnings of a fundamental realignment of interest in the region. On one side, you have states that are committed -- states groups that are committed to the use of violent extremism to resolve political issues. Included in that group are Syria, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, as well as others.

On the other side of that line, you have states like Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia. You have leaders like President Abbas. You have leaders like Prime Minister Olmert. They share -- there is an interest among those leaders and those states in trying to resolve any political disputes via the negotiating table. They have an interest in seeing a stable, prosperous, peaceful Lebanon, a democratic Lebanon. There is an interest among those states in seeing a stable, prosperous Iraq as well as the emergence of a Palestinian state.

Now there's not unanimity of views among all of these states, absolutely, and the clear differences between the Israeli Government as well as the other Arab governments in the region are well-known. But there is, underlying this realignment of interests, a group being -- a group of states that have an interest in combating the rise of violent extremism in the region as well as working in support of those fledgling democracies that are struggling against the tide of violent extremism: Lebanon, Iraq, and the Palestinian areas.

Yeah, Nicholas.

QUESTION: Still on this, their (inaudible) been attempts in the past such as the Saudi initiative or proposal to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. President Musharraf has just been to Malaysia and talked about the fact that Muslim countries should be more active and perhaps try to find a solution. Have you sensed any activity among the other Arab countries or any recent desire to actually be at the forefront and not just have the United States and perhaps the obvious, Egypt and Jordan, to do that? And sort of is there in the region an effort or the seeds of an effort to do that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think you just look around at a lot of the press headlines over the past couple months. There was King Abdullah in Jordan, King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, President Mubarak as well as others who have been out in the front talking about the importance of trying to bridge the gaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians via the negotiating table. I think -- and they do have a real interest in that.

Secretary Rice in conversations over the past several months and in her travels to the region has explored the interest and dedication of those leaders, those countries in making a concerted effort to try to bring a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And what she found was that these leaders are dedicated to trying to find -- doing what they can to find a solution, to support any process that we might set in motion with the Israelis and the Palestinians. And Secretary Rice's assessment is that they are serious. And we have in a variety of different ways, public and private, seen that they have -- they are acting and demonstrating in real ways that desire and that will. Just one small example: The Government of Egypt is working very closely with the people around President Abbas and his security folks to try to strengthen Palestinian security forces and working on issues related to closing down smuggling that allows Hamas to try to bring in illicitly funds from the outside.

So there are a number of different examples, large and small, like that. And some you'll see, some you'll hear about, others you won't. But it is Secretary Rice's assessment that there is a real desire in the region to see what can be done.


QUESTION: Can you give us a readout on the coming visit of the Egyptian delegation, the Foreign Minister and --

QUESTION: Can we stay on the Middle East for a minute?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is the Middle East. But sure, if you have something that follows on directly there.

QUESTION: I've got something that follows on the previous answer.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, sure.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Can you talk about any of these examples that bear on Hamas and Fatah, bridging their differences, since everybody you're talking about is backing President Abbas and yet there are still Palestinians killing each other from different camps in the street every day.

MR. MCCORMACK: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has asked the leaders of the -- President Abbas and his leadership as well as the leadership of Hamas to come to Mecca to try to resolve the differences between Hamas and Fatah and getting at exactly the question that you raised, getting at the violence between the two groups. So there's another example.

There have been a number of other mediation efforts. Private envoys have been involved between the two Palestinian factions to try to resolve differences between them.

QUESTION: Why is this the time to pursue this given the violence that Charlie just talked about and that, you know, erupted again today with the Hamas government attacking a convoy, whatever it was carrying, whether it was weapons or tents that belong to the presidential guard. I mean, why is this a good time to try to push this when, on the Palestinian side, the policy differences have spilled out into gunfire that despite multiple ceasefire efforts comes back?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you don't like to see violence. You don't want see that, especially since innocent civilians inevitably get caught up in the crossfire and we've seen that. And it's a tragedy when you see innocent life lost in that sort of way.

You have in President Abbas somebody who is committed to peace, who is committed to seeking to resolve the issues between Israel and the Palestinians via the negotiating table. He has abjured the use of terror and violence and he is a person who officially is empowered by the Palestinian people under the -- as the head of the PLO executive committee, I believe, he is empowered to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people.

The violence is a manifestation of clear "political" differences. Now, we -- our views on Hamas are well-known. We view them as a terrorist organization, but what it -- it's a manifestation of the fundamental contradiction in the Palestinian political body.

You have on one side, President Abbas and Fatah, who are dedicated to living up to previous Palestinian agreements, trying to seek peace with Israel. You have, on the part of Hamas, a group that is trying to straddle a fault line. On one hand, they want to maintain their right to use terror and violence to achieve what they say are political ends. On the other hand, they want to participate in the political process. It's a fundamental contradiction that needs to be resolved by the Palestinians. They themselves have to do it.

Now as I said, you can't solve that for them. We can't solve it for them. The Israelis can't. The other Arab states can't solve it for them. So they will have to come to terms with that contradiction and what sort of pathway they want; down the pathway of terror and violence and the Hamas program, the Palestinian people aren't going to realize a Palestinian state. They're not going to realize Palestine. The other pathway, they have an opportunity for Palestine.

Secretary Rice's view is that while you have a partner for peace on the Palestinian side in the form of President Abbas and his administration, you should work with them on two fronts. One, work with them on -- to build up those Palestinian institutions that will eventually form the foundation of a Palestinian state regardless of what process -- by which process you achieve a Palestinian state, they are going to need governing institutions. That's true for any democracy. They need to be able to function, so you should start doing that now. And you have a process, you have a rough outline of how you do that with the roadmap.

The other front she believes it's important to move forward on, while -- again, while you have a partner for peace, is to start to discuss what we have referred to as the political horizon. And there's a whole collection of various issues between the Israelis and Palestinians under that rubric that needs to be resolved and addressed. They haven't talked about them for more than six years now, so start to have that conversation.

And she believes that the -- given the fact that you have a partner for peace in President Abbas and an alignment of forces within the region and an alignment of interest in the region, now is a time to exploit what we see as an opportunity.


QUESTION: The Quartet is going to discuss the three-way meeting with Prime Minister Olmert and --

MR. MCCORMACK: I expect they will, yeah.

QUESTION: -- Abbas. Is this meeting designed to agree on how far the Secretary can go along the roadmap or even if she can go outside the roadmap as we know it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look. What she's talking about -- and her effort is within the context of the roadmap. It is the steps that are outlined in the roadmap in terms of institution-building and the various responsibilities are useful. They're a useful guide and everybody has agreed upon the document: the Palestinians, the Israelis and the international system, the Quartet. So it is a useful guide and nobody's talking about going out -- moving outside of that context.

What she is saying is that there are -- again, this collection of issues that need to be resolved that are at the end of the roadmap. So her suggestion to the parties, which they -- well, not her suggestion; what emerged from her last trip, and it was really the suggestion of President Abbas, is that they at least have -- begin to have a discussion about those issues, open up a discussion about those issues to provide a political horizon. Prime Minister Olmert thought that was useful, President Abbas thought that was useful, Secretary Rice thought that was useful as well.

In terms of -- so it is an effort that grew out of her trip, her initiative. I would expect that she discusses it with the members of the Quartet. I'm not sure that she's seeking -- she's not seeking permission to do it. It is -- the parties involved have agreed to do it, but certainly, we would invite the support of the Quartet members as well as other members of the international system in that initiative. And she's going to talk to them about how to mobilize the members of the Quartet's support as well as others in the international community.

Yeah, we'll get back to you, Samir. Yeah.

QUESTION: But will the Quartet be discussing the concrete steps that Abbas and Olmert have to do; for example, a cessation of settlements? Will they be talking about that kind of thing? Will they be that specific?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that they'll get down to that level in this discussion. I would expect probably a more general discussion. I would expect that they probably will talk about the responsibilities that each side has, but probably not a detailed discussion that you might be referring to.


QUESTION: Can you give us a readout of the coming visit by the Egyptian delegation, Foreign Minister, and Chief of Intelligence? And are the Egyptian requesting to host the Secretary's meeting with Abbas and Olmert in Egypt?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. We haven't set a date or a venue yet for it, but I'm not aware that they are suggesting they serve a host. As we get closer to the meeting, Samir -- it's next week -- we'll try to get you a little bit more information, but I think there are some obvious issues dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and also the bilateral relationship between Egypt and the United States. There are a lot of issues there to talk about, so as we get closer, I'll try to get you more information on it.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Last week, you had urged the Egypt Government to consider releasing Ayman Nour --


QUESTION: -- on medical grounds. Did they ever get back to you? Did they give you any sense if they have any interest in doing so?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you. I don't know that we've heard back from them. Secretary Rice did raise the issue of Ayman Nour in -- during her last visit with President Mubarak.


QUESTION: Also on Egypt?


QUESTION: There's been this rash of videos coming out of Egyptian police torturing prisoners. And a lot of human rights groups are complaining that the United States isn't making the kind of issue about human rights that it used to, for instance, when Secretary Rice first took office and made her speech. And they're citing the fact that she didn't publicly mention any human rights concerns when she was in Egypt last time and they say that -- you know, stability and national security interests in the United States are taking precedence over human rights. Is that -- are those complaints fair?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think some people are maybe over-reading a bit. First of all, we believe the promotion of freedom, human rights, political and economic freedoms are in our national security. We believe that those two interests are fundamentally aligned.

Secretary Rice gave an important speech in Cairo in 2005. She stands by every word of it. And she will continue to speak out on the freedom agenda as the core of the United States foreign policy. President Bush laid that out in his second inaugural. That remains at the center of our foreign policy and our national security interests. She will continue to speak out in public about these issues during her visits while she's here in Washington, while she -- as she travels around the globe. She won't always speak about these issues in public. Sometimes she will raise them in private. Just because she is raising them in private doesn't mean that they're not at the fundamental to our foreign policy.

I just pointed out that she raised the issue of Ayman Nour during her last visit. She raised it with President Mubarak. Sometimes you have to make a choice as to whether or not you can be most effective at a given point in time by speaking out in public on an issue or raising it in private. That in no way diminishes our dedication to promotion of human rights and being at the forefront in pushing for freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) diplomacy with respect to the torture videos?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, as Elise was mentioning, I have to confess that I am not fully briefed up on it, so I'm going to try to find out more information and see what it is that we're doing on that.

Yeah. Lambros.

QUESTION: On FYROM. They are laughing of course. It's a matter of laughing-- yes. Anyway, FYROM.


QUESTION: We will listen carefully what you're going to say. The Defense Minister of FYROM Lazar Elenovski after his meeting yesterday with the DOD, DOS, and White House officials stated that the U.S. Government in no levels supports the integration of his country with NATO without, however, solving the main dispute with Greece. He said specifically, "I expect no obstruction from Greece to the accession to NATO." Could you please, Mr. McCormack, comment since he's placing the U.S. Government on the spot after those meetings?

MR. MCCORMACK: How is he placing us on the spot?

QUESTION: Because -- okay. In order to facilitate your answer. Okay, what is the U.S. position vis--vis to the dispute between the Greece and FYROM on the name?

MR. MCCORMACK: They have to come to common agreement on it. We have made our decision known on how we are going to refer to Macedonia. But Greece and Macedonia need to come to some sort of accommodation or understanding as to what Greece will refer to Macedonia as.

QUESTION: But otherwise if FYROM is going to submit an application to become a member of the European Union or NATO regardless of solving the problems between Greece, are you going as the U.S. Government to support this application using the name FYROM?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that you can proceed concomitantly on both of those -- on those tracks, resolving -- trying to resolve the name issue between Macedonia and Greece and considering applications to those various bodies. In the case of the EU, we don't have a say in that.

QUESTION: No, I'm saying --

MR. MCCORMACK: We're not a member. But in the case of NATO, then we will talk to Macedonia about their aspirations. We have made it very clear that NATO should have a door open to consideration in expanding its membership. And we're going to continue to talk to Macedonia about what their aspirations are.

QUESTION: Otherwise you're going to support Skopje submitting the application to become a member of NATO using the name FYROM. Correct?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's not what I said. I said that we are going to continue to talk to Macedonia about their aspirations for joining NATO. That is not a process that has played out completely and that we are only one part of that conversation. They have to have that conversation with others. I understand in the case of Greece, that they need to come to some accommodation on this, for those two parties, difficult issue. We understand that it's difficult for them. It's an emotional issue. But they should try to work through the issue. They after all live next door to one another. Neither of them are going to be able to move. So they should work to resolve the issue.


MR. MCCORMACK: We've got to --

QUESTION: One last --

MR. MCCORMACK: We've got to move --

QUESTION: Mr. McCormack --

MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros, Lambros, we're going to move on. Okay? Dave.

QUESTION: So Martti Ahtisaari --

MR. MCCORMACK: Have you been conspiring with him?

QUESTION: I know, I know. Martti Ahtisaari is going to Pristina and Belgrade tomorrow to essentially unveil this long-awaited formula. It appears that the Serbian Government is not even going to meet with him and they also say that they're -- again, that they're disinterested in a solution that would involve changing the current borders of Serbia. And I wondered if you have any comment on that. Or will the United States, now that this plan is going to be in the public sector, be, you know, actively working for it?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we are working actively with Mr. Ahtisaari. We believe the parties in the region should sit down and listen to him, hear what he has to say. Everybody agrees that -- most everybody agrees that there needs to be a resolution to this issue. It's been outstanding for quite some time, in the view of some for hundreds and hundreds of years, but at least in the immediate political context at least for a decade.

So we will -- I'm not going to have any comment about exactly what he's going to propose before he talks about it himself in public, but we do believe it would be constructive for the parties in the region to sit down with him.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: As you know, Tuesday, just to wrap up for African Union meeting at the headquarters in Addis Ababa -- as you know, the chairman was elected from Ghana and I know -- do you have any reaction on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we congratulate President Kufuor on his selection as chairman of the African Union. It's a wise choice. I understand that it is also a compromise because Sudan was up to chair the African Union. We made our views known on that and the African Union among their membership came to the conclusion that it was a wise choice to seek somebody else to take the position of chair. They chose President Kufuor. We have worked very closely with him in the past and we understand that he has wide support within the AU. They have an important -- they have important missions and important issues that they are dealing with. We think that they're an important organization. An indication of that view is the fact that we have just recently accredited for the first time ever an ambassador to the AU, Cindy Courville. She is actually resident in Addis Ababa. So it's an important organization dealing with important issues in Africa and we look forward to working with President Kufuor.

QUESTION: As you speaking, the U.S. Ambassador Dr. Cindy gave a state -- press -- day before yesterday. She spoke about Somalia and there needs to be (inaudible) of a group of parties in Somalia to take over (inaudible) one political organization. She gave a statement on that. What she meant on that? I'm sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's the Transitional Federal Government. It's the internationally recognized Government of Somalia. Now, that said, they need to work to bring into the political process as many Somali parties, political factions, as they possibly can -- those parties who are interested in playing a constructive role in Somalia's future. That doesn't include working with people who seek to destabilize Somalia, take them back and return the rule of those who have connections to terrorist organizations.

Now, in the case of the Islamic Courts, there are individuals who sought to moderate the views of the Islamic Courts and we believe it is appropriate to reach out to those individuals. There are some individuals who will be irreconciled to a peaceful political process who will seek to use violence and extremism to try to undermine the Transitional Federal Government and those people need to be dealt with. Part of the way the international system plans to deal with it is to deploy an IGASOM force made up of Uganda as well as potentially other states to help out these fledgling institutions in Somalia.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary for Africa Dr. Frazer just met with Foreign Minister of Ethiopia yesterday. Do you have any --

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't talked to her. She's on her way back now.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.

QUESTION: Still Somalia again. Sean, you don't have an embassy in Somalia, obviously, but is there any consideration being given to having a Foreign Service officer or some sort of a post or presence in Somalia, semi-permanent or an American presence?

MR. MCCORMACK: We're going to take a look, obviously, at what is appropriate in terms of security, in terms of political presence, in terms of diplomatic presence in Somalia. There aren't any final decisions in that regard. It's something that's being actively examined right now.

For the time being, Ambassador Ranneberger, who is in Kenya, for our intents and purposes, as a State Department, as a bureaucratic entity, serves as our -- I guess you could say virtual chief of mission for Somalia. So he is watching the events in Somalia. He has a lot of experience in the area. Over time, if events continue in the same direction in which they're headed right now, I would expect that that would probably change, but there's no change in status right now.

QUESTION: And when you say actively considering, are you -- does that mean that you have someone in the country talking to the government there?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no. We're considering what it is our posture should be in terms of physical presence in Somalia.

QUESTION: And then you will approach the local authorities to work out the logistics and the security and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that those -- all of those things need to happen at the same time in order to make an informed assessment of whether or not it's feasible to do that, whether or not it's desirable to do that, whether or not that would be welcomed.

QUESTION: But do you think it would be helpful to have someone in the country?

MR. MCCORMACK: We haven't made that assessment yet.

QUESTION: No, I understand, but I mean, by default, I would think that having someone in any country is better than having no one in that country for the State Department; is that right?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you also want to make sure that A) those people are safe and B) they're able to conduct the business that they want to conduct. And part of that is also, are they welcome there as a presence. So I guess I would quibble with the assessment that -- you know, it is, as a good, better to have somebody in country than not. There are a lot of reasons why we don't have diplomats in North Korea or we don't have them in Iran right now. So we're making an assessment whether or not that is the right move for us.


QUESTION: In Latin America, there have been some reports that Hezbollah is expanding in the hemisphere and that some groups tied to Hezbollah -- the Treasury put out this statement that some groups tied to Hezbollah have been sending money back to Hezbollah and Lebanon. And how concerned are you that Iran is working with Hezbollah to expand its presence in the hemisphere and fundraise in Venezuela and other countries?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they're -- you know, Iran created Hezbollah. So I can't tell you exactly what the state of that -- those ties are, what -- I mean, more precisely, what sort of command and control relationship the regime in Tehran has with Hezbollah. But there are clear organic links there. As for Hezbollah's presence around the globe, I don't have any specifics on it, Elise. I think that people are watching whether or not there are Hezbollah activities around the globe.

You cite Treasury having some concerns about Hezbollah activities in the tri-border region in South America. And sure, that's a clear concern. You have a terrorist organization that has significant resources, significant experience, proven capability in executing terrorist attacks. That's a real concern and something that certainly our counterterrorism people watch very closely.

Okay, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:13 p.m.)

DPB # 19

Released on February 1, 2007

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