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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 5, 2007


Charges Against Mikhail Khodorkovsky / Impact of Yukos Oil Case on Russia's Credibility
Readout of Foreign Minister Lavrov's February 2 Meeting with Secretary Rice
Macedonia's Possible NATO Membership / Membership Action Plan / Name Issue
Future of U.S.-India Relations
Installation of Additional Centrifuges at Natanz / IAEA Report / Iran Continues to Isolate Itself
IAEA Technical Assistance Programs in Iran / U.S. Opposition to Certain Programs
Death of Iranian Nuclear Scientist
"International System" vs. "International Community"
Secretary Rice's Meeting with Foreign Minister Gul / Armenian Genocide / Additional Topics for the Meeting
PKK Infiltration from Northern Iraq / General Ralston's Work to Decrease Tensions
Secretary Rice's Meeting with Don Cheadle / Mr. Cheadle's Work on Darfur
Chinese President Hu's Visit to Khartoum / Mixed Signals from China
Efforts of King Abdullah to Work on Israel/Palestinian Issues
Terrorist Attack at Baghdad Market / Iraqis Must Address Sectarian Violence
Cross-Border Terrorist Activity / Trilateral Commission
Under Secretary Burns Urged Caretaker Government to Have Inclusive Elections



1:02 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. We can get right into your questions. We don't have any opening statements. Sue.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the charges that were brought against him today?

MR. MCCORMACK: As a matter of fact, I do have something right here. I have something prepared on this. Let me read it to you.

As we have commented in connection with the original trial, the continued prosecution of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the dismantlement of Yukos raise serious questions about the rule of law in Russia. Khodorkovsky and his associate, Platon Lebedev, would have been eligible to apply for parole this year, having served half of their terms. These new charges would likely preclude their early release. Many of the actions in the case against Khodorkovsky and Yukos have raised serious concerns about the independence of courts, sanctity of contracts and property rights, and the lack of a predictable tax regime. The conduct of Russian authorities in the Khodorkovsky Yukos affair has eroded Russia's reputation and confidence in Russian legal and judicial institutions. Such actions as this and other cases raise questions about Russia's commitment to the responsibilities which all democratic, free market economies countries embrace.

QUESTION: Have you contacted the Russians about this and voiced your frustration?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it just only happened either overnight or within the past day or so. I would expect that we would, at an appropriate time and at the appropriate level, raise it. I don't believe Secretary Rice raised this with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I don't think that this has come out in public yet.

QUESTION: But did you raise various human rights and other issues with Foreign Minister Lavrov when he was here, or was it all Middle East, Iraq, all the time?

MR. MCCORMACK: For the meetings that I were in -- and I wasn't in all of them -- she talked about Iran, they talked about the Middle East, obviously the Quartet meeting, talked a little bit about Kosovo. They talked about various bilateral issues, trade issues and such. I don't -- I wasn't there for any conversations about political and economic reform in Russia, but it's a topic that the Secretary does frequently raise with Foreign Minister Lavrov.


QUESTION: Yes. Mr. McCormack, on FYROM. Last Thursday, in answer to a question of mine regarding the land dispute between Greece and FYROM, inter alia, you stated, "Greece and Macedonia need to come to sort of accommodation or understanding as to what Greece will refer to Macedonia as." What do you mean with this since that reflects exactly the position of FYROM?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you asked a question about membership in NATO. That's how this whole question came about. Macedonia is part of the Membership Action Plan, MAP, so there is some interaction ongoing between NATO as an organization, its individual member-states and Macedonia. We ourselves have made a decision with respect to the name of Macedonia.

Now, eventually, as we have said, that NATO has an open door and we clearly have -- are engaged in discussions with other non-member states right now about the potential for membership down the road, one of those issues between Macedonia and Greece would have to be the name issue. And in -- if you were ever to -- if you were ever to get to membership for Macedonia in NATO, you would have to get all member NATO states agreeing that Macedonia should enter. So it was a reference to the fact that if you ever do get to that point, it's an issue that would need to be resolved between Macedonia and Greece since NATO is a consensus organization.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. position exactly, whatever you told us, that if she is going to apply as Macedonia or FYROM, would you support such an application?

MR. MCCORMACK: We're not there, Lambros. With respect to the name, we have made our decision with respect to the name. Now, the UN is involved in this issue as well and there have to be discussions as to what Macedonia would be referred to in the UN as well. Again, those need to be worked out. These are issues that are not a -- it's not a bilateral issue at this point between the U.S. and Macedonia. As an organization and as a member-state, this issue is not an issue for us, but clearly it is for the Greek Government. It would need to be resolved if Macedonia were ever to proceed further down the pathway to NATO membership.

Now, that is not the only issue. There are a number of other issues that are part of the Membership Action Plan that Macedonia would have to resolve before it could even get close to membership. So it's one among a number of different issues that NATO countries, as a whole, have with Macedonia.

QUESTION: And one on Cyprus. Last Thursday, Mr. McCormack, in answer to a question on Cyprus, you spoke extensively about the delimitation of the continental shelf around the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. Could you please clarify the U.S. position on the continental shelf of the Republic of Cyprus, a part of which is under Turkish invasion and occupation?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll have to get you our expert on the continental shelf in the eastern Mediterranean. I can't tell you exactly what our position is. It's -- this stuff gets very quickly into complicated issues related to the Law of the Sea and so forth. I'm not going to try to jump into those waters.

QUESTION: I agree, but since you recognized the Republic of Cyprus --


QUESTION: -- I'm wondering, you don't recognize that Cyprus is a sovereign country, has the right to do whatever it's (inaudible) as part to this effect.


QUESTION: Thanks. After a short trip to India, I just met U.S. Ambassador, Mr. Mulford at the U.S. Embassy and I'm very thankful to him and I have brought greetings for the Secretary at what he were talking about, India-U.S. relations, high-rise relations between the two democracies. And also, he said that it couldn't be better than today.

What I'm saying is now that -- talking to thousands of people throughout India, now they're talking about that -- how these two countries, India and U.S., blend together after the civil nuclear agreement between the two countries, because there's a high hope from the U.S. now. How -- what can you add now as far as the civil nuclear and the India-U.S. relations are the future?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the future is wide open, obviously. We are in the -- concluding the civil nuclear agreement and there's a lot of hard work left to do to implement that agreement. We have removed one of those obstacles to more full, broader and deeper relations between the United States and India. In large part, these relationships are going to be governed by nongovernmental interactions, business interactions, people-to-people exchanges, U.S. students studying in India, Indian students studying in the United States.

But I would expect, Goyal, that you would see the Secretary seeking to build on those -- this relationship, talking about how we might cooperate further in political, economic as well as diplomatic endeavors. There are a number of different interests that we have in common. And in the coming months and in the remaining two years, I'm sure you will see the Secretary work with her Indian counterparts to build on the good start that we have.

QUESTION: Will there be soon any high-level visits exchanged from the two countries, like a Secretary's visit or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll keep you -- nothing to announce at this point, Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Iran, please. Have you seen these reports coming out of the Iranian news agencies saying that -- claiming that Iran will fulfill its nuclear ambitions by next week, February the 11th? What do you make of these reports?

MR. MCCORMACK: To fulfill -- well, I'm not quite clear as to what that means, but there have been a number of different reports that they're going to install more centrifuges at the Natanz facility and I can't tell you what the Iranian public relations rollout plan is for more centrifuges at Natanz. You have seen these press reports. I think the IAEA is going to have a report that's coming out in the next couple weeks that's going to tell the world exactly what the Iranians are up to there, what sort of activities they are conducting, whether or not they're expanding their efforts, how effective their efforts to enrich uranium have been at Natanz.

We're going to wait to see what that report has to say before we offer any detailed comment, but based on the press reports that we have seen thus far, it is very clear that Iran is headed off into another direction. It intends to isolate itself from the rest of the world. It continues to go -- be 180 degrees off from where the international system wants it to be. They want -- they seem to want isolation. The international system is extending its hand in terms of negotiation. They have yet to meet those conditions.

QUESTION: So you have total confidence in this IAEA report?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's a data point. They are on the ground there. They are observing the activities on the ground in Natanz. They have a variety of different means of monitoring the activities at Natanz. They are interacting with Iranian officials down there. Now, they probably are not getting the entire story because there are a lot of outstanding questions that have yet to be answered by the Iranians. I don't expect, given their behavior recently, that they are going to come through and fully disclose the answers to those questions. But it is a snapshot as to -- for the rest of the world as to what's going on at Natanz.


QUESTION: If I can just ask you about something about the gaggle on Friday, which was that Under Secretary Burns had referenced that the U.S. had made protests to the Iranian Government regarding shipments into Iraq. I was wondering if you had a chance to look into that.

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't. Let me check it out for you.

QUESTION: You say there's a report on Vienna that the United States is looking to cut about half of the 80 IAEA aid programs that involve Iran in one way or another. Is that something that's on the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, these are some of the technical assistance programs that are part of what the IAEA has underway with various member-states, those states who were seeking peaceful nuclear energy when -- and frankly, we have a real issue with the idea that the -- an international organization, part of which we fund as well as other countries would be offering technical assistance on nuclear energy and the technologies associated with it while you have a country that is under Chapter 7 resolution precisely because the rest of the world doesn't trust their assurances that they are not seeking a nuclear weapon. So we think that there is a fundamental contradiction in allowing these programs to proceed and go forward as normal when the situation is far from normal. You have this country that has been cited by the IAEA Board of Governors and by the Security Council under Chapter 7 resolution. So yes, we have brought the -- we as well as others have brought this issue up at the IAEA.

QUESTION: Are there programs that you'll allow -- you think should continue? There's some that have to do with managing radioactive waste and use of radio isotopes and medical.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have that case-by-case list for you, but our Ambassador on the ground is involved in talking to the IAEA about these programs. We just think any program that might possibly offer any sort of technical assistance to the Iranians in advancing their nuclear energy program that could possibly be put to other uses should not go forward.

Yes. Nicholas.

QUESTION: Sean, actually a good technical question. Have you officially replaced the term "international community" with "international system"?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. There's no particular guidebook here. I use them interchangeably.

QUESTION: Well, you've been using "system" in the past several months, as the Secretary has, too.

MR. MCCORMACK: Personally I think it is a more accurate description because it is a system that has certain rules and regulations, if you will, that govern the standard behavior within that system between the states -- between the states and international organizations. So I personally think it's just a more accurate term.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can you tell me whether the Administration is talking to members of Congress about a proposed resolution on Armenian genocide and whether or not you think this will be a likely topic for discussion between Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Gul, and what the Administration or what Secretary Rice will be saying on that matter?

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of working with the Congress on this issue, we do every single year. This year is no different. And I would expect that it probably would come up in the Secretary's meeting between -- with Prime Minister -- Foreign Minister Gul. It's clearly an issue of great sensitivity for a number of different communities in the United States as well as abroad.

QUESTION: Can you -- I mean, does the Administration oppose the resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that one has been officially tabled at this point, so you can't really oppose --

QUESTION: Has it in the past?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have worked with the Congress in the past on resolutions that have been passed.

QUESTION: Do you have any details on the Secretary's meeting with Don Cheadle, why they met? Was it largely to do with Darfur?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it -- Mr. Cheadle is somebody who has taken a great interest in the issue of Darfur and has demonstrated that he is somebody who is quite serious about the issue. He's very knowledge about it. He has traveled extensively to -- in the Middle East. I think he's also traveled to China as well to talk about the issue, to raise awareness of it and to encourage countries around the world, including the United States, to do everything that it can to end the humanitarian suffering and to bring a lasting solution to the conflicts that have led to the humanitarian disaster in Darfur.

QUESTION: And what did the Secretary say to him? Maybe if you could give us a little bit of information.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to go into a readout. They had a good discussion about it. The Secretary talked a little bit about our efforts within the international system to work on the issue of Darfur and gave a little update on the state of play where those efforts stood.

QUESTION: Sean, what do you make of the Chinese Premier's visit to Sudan in Khartoum? Any resolution forthcoming or do you think their commercial contracts with the Sudanese are causing grave difficulties?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, China has a well known, well established commercial relationship with Sudan. They work very closely together on issues related to oil exports, exports from Sudan to China. We heard in public from the Chinese that President Hu raised issues related to Darfur and the issue of allowing in an AU/UN hybrid force into Darfur with President Bashir. I don't have a readout of exactly what transpired in their meetings. That comment is based only on what I've seen reported in public on it.

There have been some mixed signals, obviously. On one hand, very positive that President Hu raised those issues. On the other hand, you have other signals like Chinese investment in building a new presidential palace. China obviously has its own reasons for doing that, but we are going to continue working closely with the Chinese as well as others to do what we can to bring that diplomatic pressure on the Sudanese Government to allow in that AU/UN hybrid force and also to live up to some of the agreements that it had signed as recently as a couple of weeks ago. They agreed to a ceasefire with Governor Richardson. He in his travels there came up with a list of things he asked them to do, including not painting Sudanese Government planes white, which causes a great deal of confusion for humanitarian aid workers as well as people on the ground because UN aircraft are painted white.

And there are a number of issues like that -- small practical steps -- that the Sudanese Government needs to live up to in addition to the much larger commitments that we all know that they have yet to act upon in terms of phase one, two and three. They have agreed in principle to the deployment of all the forces in phases one, two and three, but we have yet to see some of the action that would allow those forces to flow in.

QUESTION: Could you expand a little bit on the presidential palace loan? Do you think that this is an unhelpful gesture on behalf of the Chinese in terms of rewarding the Sudanese for --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sue, without having a full understanding of exactly what transpired in these meetings, I'm not going to go any further on it. I'm just talking about the public signals. That's what is apparent to all of us who are reading the newspaper.

QUESTION: What does that mean? The public signals? I mean, do you -- is it something you disapprove of? You've mentioned it so --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sue, I was just pointing out that there's -- that it was in public sort of a mixed bag in terms of the Chinese visit there and we'll see exactly what sort of results are yielded out of that visit.


MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Sudan is also going to launch a satellite television from Dubai in the Middle East. What's your reaction to this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any of the details behind it. I couldn't tell you.

QUESTION: They want to promote their views in a better way?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Samir, I don't have the details of it. I couldn't tell you. A lot of countries launch satellites for their news programs all around the world.


QUESTION: Just back to the Don Cheadle meeting for a second. He actually said publicly that he thinks that the United States could do more to help the situation in Sudan. Did the Secretary -- I imagine he asked the Secretary whether -- what the United States could do more, but did she talk to him about any plans outside the UN that the United States could actually help alleviate the situation there?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nicholas, I'm not going to get into any more details of the meeting. She gave him a read on where we stand right now in terms of our policies and where things stand vis--vis the international community and other potential troop donor nations and our efforts with respect to the UN. But beyond that, I'm not going to get into --

QUESTION: Was he satisfied by the answers? We'll ask him then.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, David.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) death of this Iranian nuclear scientist, Hassanpour?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I looked into it. I just don't have -- wasn't able to track down any information on it. Obviously, I've seen the news reports about it but couldn't find anything else one way or the other to substantiate these reports.

QUESTION: Do you have a date yet to announce for the trilateral meeting, the Israeli -- the three-way?



QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, Mr. Gul said that his agenda consist of measures to be taken against the Kurds to -- against the PKK and a possible cross-border operation. Are you going to let them invade northern Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: General -- there are a lot of tensions concerning the infiltration of PKK into Turkey. And the PKK have taken the lives of soldiers as well as innocent civilians on the Turkish side of the border. That's a real concern to us. It's a concern to the Turks. And General Ralston is working to decrease those tensions on both sides of the borders between the Iraqis and the Turks. Obviously, it's a very sensitive issue and we are engaging in diplomacy so that you don't end up with an armed confrontation in northern Iraq. I don't think anybody really wants to see that.

The PKK is a terrorist organization and we view it as such, we've classified it as such, so what we're trying to do is use our good offices and the good offices of General Ralston to see if there are ways to decrease the tensions on what is a serious issue.


QUESTION: Yes. Do you know, Mr. McCormack, what time will be the meeting tomorrow between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul --


QUESTION: -- about the agenda something?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I talked a little bit about it yesterday. They'll talk about Iraq. I'm sure they'll talk about Iran. They will talk about Turkish-EU issues.


MR. MCCORMACK: It could come up. If it's on the mind of Foreign Minister Gul, Secretary Rice will be ready to talk about it.

QUESTION: And one more. May we have your assessment about Martti Ahtisaari proposals on Kosovo which favor independence against the territorial integrity of Serbia?

MR. MCCORMACK: I put a statement out on Friday about it. Don't have anything to add.


QUESTION: Have you had any discussions with the Saudis in advance of their effort to broker an agreement between Hamas and Fatah? And do you have any wishes for that process?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we certainly applaud the efforts of King Abdullah to try to bring about a solution. These efforts are obviously welcomed by President Abbas and therefore we support the efforts. Whatever solution is worked out obviously needs to be acceptable to the Palestinians and most especially to President Abbas.

In terms of our contact with the Saudis, we're in frequent contact with them about -- whether it's Israeli-Palestinian issues or other issues in the region. I can't tell you specifically, Dave, whether or not we've talked to them on this issue.


QUESTION: Can I ask about the violence in Iraq over the weekend? Khalilzad is using the phrase "forces of evil." The White House is calling it a terrorist attack. Are you using the same kind of classification?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's clearly a terrorist attack. You have an explosion that was intended to cause maximum harm to innocent civilians who were doing their daily shopping at the market. There's no other way, I think, to classify it than to say that it is a brutal terrorist attack.

And we, of course, are going to work as closely as we can with the Iraqis to help bring security and some greater semblance of order to Baghdad. Ultimately, however, it is going to be the Iraqis that are going to have to address the very clear sectarian tensions that have led to some of these kinds of horrific episodes of violence like we have seen this past weekend.


QUESTION: Sean, on Afghanistan, a terrorism-related question. The problem in Afghanistan is still on the rise as far as terrorism is concerned and there is a concern in the region, especially in India. Indians will assume that now time has come that two countries, U.S. and India, must work together to fight against terrorism, especially the cross-border terrorism which your Ambassador also agreed we have to do more.

What I'm saying is they were asking that how U.S. can do more as far as fighting against terrorism on cross-border because also it's coming over from Afghanistan border. So what are we doing now as far as --

MR. MCCORMACK: This is the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Right, and Afghanistan. This whole triangle. Because this terrorism is still following Afghanistan.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. It's still a problem. And the Afghan Government knows it, the Pakistani Government knows it, and we have been involved and continue to be involved with both governments. We have a trilateral commission that is set up to improve the communications between the two governments as well as to improve the effectiveness of their efforts to stop cross-border infiltrations going both ways.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan have responsibilities in this regard. They have improved their coordination. They have improved somewhat the effectiveness of that coordination, but there is clearly a lot more that needs to be done. Pakistan has an interest in a stable, prosperous, democratic Afghanistan. The rest of the region -- you point out India. The rest of the region has an interest in that as well. And clearly the rest of the world does as well. NATO has a lot of troops on the ground there. So everybody wants to see that situation more stable over the long term. Part of that equation is getting at the infiltration going both ways of Taliban terrorists along that border area.

QUESTION: One on Bangladesh, please? Just for a statement from you here that as far as elections in Bangladesh is concerned there is a big fight going on among the political parties and a lot of violence going on. But is anybody in touch with the State Department from Bangladesh as far as their elections are concerned or future of their political --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, we are in close contact with this caretaker government. Under Secretary Nick Burns, in fact, I think about a month ago, was on the phone with this head of the caretaker government urging them to be as inclusive as possible in the election process. I know that there were some concerns about -- by at least one significant party in the election process.

Bangladeshis are going to have to work through all of these issues themselves. What we encourage is an electoral process that is free, fair and transparent, is as inclusive as possible for all responsible parties, so that when you do have a result it is a result that can be accepted by the Bangladeshi population as a whole.

QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:31 p.m.)

DPB # 20

Released on February 5, 2007

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