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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 9, 2007


Announcement on Formation of Palestinian Government of National Unity
Secretary Rice's Call with Members of the Quartet
Secretary's Planned Travel to Region
Israeli Excavation Activity at Haram al-Sharif / Today's Violence
Status / Timeline / Review of US Presentation on Iran
Reported Efforts by President Chen to Rename Public Offices
Creation of African Command / State and DOD Partnership
Somalia Contact Group Meeting in Dar es Salaam
Allocation of US Reconstruction Assistance
Discussion with Syria on Iraqi Refugees
Iraqi Refugees and US Assistance
Human Rights Watch Staffer Umida Niyazova Detained
Reported Extradition Request for Brother of Former President Fujimori


12:40 p.m. EST

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

QUESTION: Has there been any effort this morning to organize a concerted review of the statement on the Palestinian unity government? Who's involved in that effort? Has the Secretary started talking to people involved and what happens next?

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, there's a lot in there.

QUESTION: I just figured I'd kind of throw it all out there, dog's breakfast --

MR. MCCORMACK: Did you guys all collude on the fact that you would ask all the questions all in one?

QUESTION: No, no, actually.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right, let's back up.

QUESTION: There will be plenty of others.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, all right. Let's back up. Here's where we are. We understand that out of Mecca under the good offices of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that the various Palestinian factions got together, that they had come to agreement on a government of national unity.

Now, we as well as other members of the Quartet do not yet have all the details of either the program of this government of national unity or the composition. And in fact, I don't think -- I think that there's still some work to be done in that regard among the Palestinians. So you don't have all the details, important details.

So at this point, we can't offer a reaction beyond the fact that we remain committed to a two-state solution and the Palestinian people deserve a government that is committed to that goal and one that also is clearly committed to the principles outlined at the last meeting of the Quartet.

Beyond that, I can't offer any reaction. Obviously we along with other members of the Quartet are going to endeavor to get more details as they become available. I think the Palestinians are still working on some of those details.

In terms of actions that we have taken, obviously we're in contact with various people in the region at working levels. The Secretary did have a call of the Quartet this morning. They had a good discussion. At this point, I don't have any further details that I can offer you about that discussion. And I would expect that over the coming days that there will be more conversations between the Secretary and leaders in the region.

There's no change to her plans. We plan on leaving towards the end of next week for a trip to the Middle East. We'll fill you in on those details as we get closer. The meetings that we had talked about are still planned in terms of Secretary Rice, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas getting together, then I would expect there would be separate bilateral programs between Secretary Rice and Prime Minister Olmert, and Secretary Rice and President Abbas.

QUESTION: In that context, I imagine if there was anything particularly good to say about this agreement, you'd be saying it.

MR. MCCORMACK: You have to get the details. The details matter in this regard, both with respect to the composition and with respect to the platform. And as we have clearly said before, that we believe that the government should be clearly and credibly committed to the principles reiterated by the Quartet at its meeting last week in Washington and should be a partner in peace. Beyond that, I can't offer any more reaction because you don't have important details about the government. And as they become more clear, you can be assured that we as well as the members of the Quartet and others in the region will offer greater reaction.


QUESTION: So it means that you don't expect any collective reaction of the Quartet before these meetings scheduled on the (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't say that. What I said is, at this point, I don't have anything further to offer with respect to the Secretary's phone call. But if there is anything more that we have to offer coming out of that phone call, we'll keep you up to date in terms of statements, et cetera.

QUESTION: And why would the Quartet -- why was the call arranged? What were they --

MR. MCCORMACK: Because there was clearly some event that occurred yesterday in Mecca where you had the announcement of the formation of this government. Now as I said, there's still a lot of details that need to be worked out by the Palestinians and then made public and made available to us. We don't have those right now. So there is an effort to get together, assess what the situation was, and compare notes on what it is --

QUESTION: Share what people --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, exactly.

QUESTION: What each side knows -- okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, exactly.

QUESTION: The Hamas -- after this agreement, said that Mecca agreement -- doesn't mean they recognize Israel, but they didn't say it doesn't mean that we don't -- that we recognize the right of Israel to exist. Is there a difference for you? Is there a nuance between recognizing Israel and recognizing the right of Israel to exist?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, let's wait until we have all the facts, they have all the details. What we have said is that the Palestinians deserve a government that is clearly and credibly committed to the principles reiterated by the Quartet last week in Washington. You can go back and look at the Quartet statement. And that the Palestinian people deserve a government that is committed to the pathway of peace.

It's very clear that is the way that the Palestinian people will realize a Palestinian state, through the pathway to negotiation. There is, very clearly, a way forward. It's outlined in the roadmap. And we will see in the coming days and weeks whether or not this government of national unity is one that is clearly and credibly committed to those principles.

QUESTION: But in principle, do you make a difference? Do you -- is there a nuance between these two --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, I'm not going to try to do halftime analysis here.

QUESTION: It's not an analysis. It's judging what exactly you expect from the --

MR. MCCORMACK: It is. You're asking me what -- Sylvie, what you're -- no, what you're asking me to do is to give you a reaction based on an incomplete set of facts and I'm not going to do that.

QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no. I want to know in general what you expect from them.

MR. MCCORMACK: I have just said -- I have just --

QUESTION: Is it to recognize Israel like this or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, I just said -- listen to what I said. What I said is that the Palestinian people deserve a government -- we believe that they deserve a government that is clearly and credibly one that adheres to the principles outlined in the last meeting of the Quartet in Washington. You can go back and look at what that statement said and it references earlier statements as well. That is still the basis on which -- or the prism through which, if you will, that the Quartet and we will make our assessment of the composition as well as the program of this proposed government of national unity.

QUESTION: Based on what you do know, is there any change to the way the United States would deal with Abbas going forward? Do you still consider him at the -- sort of the acceptable representative and the only one with whom you're willing to deal.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the answer to that is the Secretary intends to go forward with her trip as well as her meetings.

QUESTION: Well, you're also looking at giving them $86 million.

MR. MCCORMACK: There's no changes in our policy.

QUESTION: Can I switch topics?



QUESTION: This morning again, there's violence in Jerusalem with Muslims, following worship, perhaps barricading them up themselves in the al-Aqsa Mosque at Temple Mount.


QUESTION: And because of these talks with the Saudis, do you view this in any way as trying to forestall the talks that you're going to have in Jerusalem with the Turkish Government as well as Israelis and President Abbas in the next week, week and a half?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not ascribing any political connection to what went on. Here's the situation, as we understand it. There were some excavations related to construction of a new walkway. From the Western Wall Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem to the site of the Temple Haram al-Sharif to ensure the safety of visitors. Now, we have been in contact with the Government of Israel on this matter. They take it very seriously. And we urge all parties when they are considering and taking any actions with respect to excavations or any sort of construction activity near these sensitive religious sites to take into account that they are dealing with sensitive religious sites. And if, in fact, they do decide to proceed with those kinds of activities, that they carefully consider how those activities would be carried out. I understand the Government of Israel is also looking at how they can take into account some of the concerns that have been expressed about this particular construction activity.

In terms of the unrest that we saw recently after the Friday prayers, understand that there were some rock-throwers that came out, a small number of them. The Israeli police reacted in an effort to calm the situation and -- which is the appropriate response that people should take every effort to lower the temperatures on this and not let it get out of hand.

MR. MCCORMACK: Libby, you want to change the subject now? There you go.

QUESTION: I wanted to continue beating the dead horse on Iranian evidence? Just wondering what role has the Secretary played in the decision-making process as far as when to present the evidence on Iran? And you know, can you just give us some insight into her role in this as far as the Administration's presentation?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are people who are looking at the presentation, working through it, kind of making sure that this is -- that it's a clear, concise, to-the-point presentation that meets the requirements that we don't in any way jeopardize our sources and methods in making the presentation.

She offered general guidance on just those facts, to make sure that it's clear and make sure that it is something that is representative of the facts as we know them and that it doesn't endanger future activities with respect to going after these networks. I think early on she might have seen an initial draft of the presentation. I can't tell you that she's seen any of the subsequent drafts. She's not involved in those discussions. David Satterfield is our point guy really on that. He's the Secretary's Special Advisor on Iraq. So it's not something that she's looking at on a day-to-day basis or considering on a day-to-day basis.

I would expect that when the working level folks at the deputies level, the deputies committee level people, produce a presentation that they are comfortable with, I am sure that they'll share it with Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates and Steve Hadley over at the NSC just for review. So I would characterize her role as one of general review, not getting into the details of what is included in the presentation.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say after she saw the first draft she expressed some reservation about putting it out there?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think all of the principals did. Steve Hadley talked about the fact that he, Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates took a look at the presentation and decided that there was more work that needed to be done on it, and that's what's happened.

QUESTION: And what impact did the experience over Iraq have on that? And then I think there's got to be some obvious caution in presenting intelligence at this point. Is that --

MR. MCCORMACK: Any time you are making presentations based on intelligence information, you want to abide by a certain set of rules and you want to make sure that it's clear, that it reflects the facts as you know them, that it reflects the consensus analysis and that it doesn't endanger sources and methods. And that has been -- that's her view with respect to this presentation or any other one that you do involving intelligence information.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Thank you. A quick question on Taiwan. Sean, do you have any comment on Taiwan President Chen's push to rename state-owned enterprises in Taiwan's overseas representative of offices from Republic of China to Taiwan?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check into that for you. We'll try to get -- we'll get you an answer.


MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. I don't -- I hadn't seen those stories with those particular facts in it, okay?

QUESTION: The reason I ask is in 2004, State Department expresses opposition to similar move by President Chen.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, I know. I understand. I want to understand all the facts so we can talk a little bit afterwards.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll get you an answer, okay?

QUESTION: Can I ask you about this Africa Command?


QUESTION: What role will State be playing? There's been some --


QUESTION: -- reports that the number-two will be a State Department --


QUESTION: -- official. Can you --


QUESTION: -- elaborate on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've been really -- we've been in on the ground floor discussions on the creation of this Africa Command with the Department of Defense. We've been great partners on it and we're -- I would expect that we're going to be partners in this.

We still have to work out some of the details as to exactly how the senior-most State Department representatives in the Africa Command would relate to the commander, but regardless of exactly how the line and block chart works out, this is really a new evolution, I think, in terms of the DOD-State Department partnership. We look at it that way. The Department of Defense looks at it that way. So it's really an exciting new innovation.

QUESTION: Will this be a very -- will the character of this command be very different from the existing ones in that sense?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think they will be different in how the State Department and the Department of Defense relate to each other in terms of that senior leadership. The Department of Defense has been very forward-leaning and very open with the State Department in saying, "We want to have senior level input from your people in that command. We want you to be part of the processes of that command and we want you to be part of the day-to-day operations of how the -- in what the Africa Command is doing." So it's really quite an innovation. It's new and exciting and we're looking forward to working with DOD on it.

QUESTION: What about the question of who will be the host nation?

MR. MCCORMACK: Of the Africa Command?


MR. MCCORMACK: I think they're still working out all those details. I don't think we have an answer on that yet.

QUESTION: Are you courting various countries or regions or --

MR. MCCORMACK: We have approached a couple of countries. I don't think we've settled on or I don't think DOD has settled on a final choice yet.

QUESTION: And who -- will it be their decision?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, obviously, we'll have input to it, but it is a combatant command, but we will, as I said, be partners in all of this. We're providing a lot of input to them.

QUESTION: Would it make sense, then, to put someone in the Horn of Africa, which seems to be the -- at the center of problems in the region as opposed to some out of the way place like Zimbabwe?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a lot of different choices. They're going to -- they -- you know, a lot of different possibilities. I would point out to you DOD also had some operations several years ago in West Africa as well, if you look at Liberia. Now today, on the headlines of the news pages, we're seeing a lot of activity in the Horn of Africa. We already do have a -- CENTCOM already has presence in Djibouti. I don't know if they're going to choose to build on that or if they're going to choose to station it elsewhere. So there are a lot of different choices, a lot of good choices, and we'll work with them on exactly where it's going to end up.

QUESTION: I have some questions on Iraqi Kurdistan. There seems to be a lot of anxiety in Kurdistan right now about the possibility of violence spilling over into their region. They haven't been really enthusiastic about the Peshmerga being deployed and this troop surge in Baghdad. They aren't very pleased about the U.S. support for renegotiating the 2005 constitution which they gained considerable autonomy in that constitution. They issued a totally blistering press release after the arrest of the Iranian agents in Irbil and they calculate that only about 3 percent of reconstruction funding, U.S. reconstruction funding, has been spent in Kurdistan.

So I guess my question is, you know, how concerned are you that the Kurds might be feeling that they're getting a raw deal here? And you know, have -- you know, have you been asked for any kind of assurances that their lives are going to be made -- not going to be made worse by this turn of events in Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they're Iraqis, so in large part the destiny of their country is, in part, in their hands. In terms of the ebbs and flows of the political happiness of political leadership in various parts of Iraq, that will, I am sure, be dependent upon how they're relating to their counterparts in other parts of Iraq, how they're doing in terms of the various political bargains that are underway in Iraq. So the answer to the question is it's in their hands; they can determine these things. It's not as --

QUESTION: They say they --

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't have a vote on the Iraqi budget. In terms of the Peshmerga deploying down to Baghdad, they've had a good turnout. The brigades are flowing south. You brought up some other issues. What were some of the other ones?

QUESTION: Irbil. But going back to the funding, I mean, that's -- I'm talking about U.S. reconstruction funding. I mean, in some ways because Kurdistan is thought to be so stable and so peaceful, I mean, they feel like they've been ignored in favor of maybe the U.S. trying to appease Sunnis who -- and get them into the political process by promising the renegotiation of the 2005 constitution? I mean, they say it's in their hands, but we've done it, we've brokered a constitution, and now a year later the U.S. is --

MR. MCCORMACK: The Iraqis came to an agreement that they were going to seek amendments to the constitution. That was an Iraqi understanding. It wasn't manufactured in the United States. Yes, we participated in the political process in the sense that we advised them, we pushed them together to make compromises. But at the end of the day, those were Iraqi compromises and they were Iraqi deals that were reached. So the consideration of amendments to the constitution was an Iraqi decision.

In terms of the reconstruction funding, we allocate the reconstruction funding where we believe that there is the greatest need. Now, in a sense, the north was a great beneficiary over a long period of time of about a decade or more of the international community's ability to keep Saddam Hussein from exercising the kind of influence that he exercised over the rest of Iraq with no-fly zones and other kinds of interactions with the international community. So they, in a sense, did have -- they already had an advantage over the course of ten years or more where they were able to build up some of their infrastructure, they were able to build up different kinds of industries in the north.

So in that sense, they have already benefited from a decade's worth of effort by the international community. There are other parts of Iraq that have great needs, and that's not to say that the United States or anybody else is going to ignore the needs as they exist in the north. But you have to make decisions based upon an analysis of where you think the money spent can have the most effect and where the greatest needs are.

QUESTION: Given that it is considered this success story, this oasis of stability and, you know, democratic institutions and civil society there, I mean, is -- are Kurdish leaders coming forward to talk to U.S. officials about how to preserve that success? Are they expressing anxiety that maybe it could be jeopardized by, you know, either inflows of refugees from the rest of Iraq or, you know, involvement of the Kurds in the sectarian fighting or, you know, involvement of neighbors like Turkey or Iran? Are they expressing anxiety to you guys about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm sure if you spoke to any politician in Iraq at this point that they would express a certain level of anxiety about any given topic that is of concern to them because this is a fledgling democracy that is struggling to build democratic institutions, functioning institutions that can serve their people.

I would just point out to you that the President of Iraq is a Kurd and he is a greatly respected figure throughout -- in the Iraqi political process. They seek out his counsel. They are well represented in senior positions throughout the Iraqi Government. So they have a real say in what the future of Iraq will be. But the future of Iraq will be dependent on how they work with the other groups within Iraq. They all have to work together.

QUESTION: The President of Iraq's son said this week that they are interested -- they are anxious about preserving the success that Kurdistan has and that, you know, he's trying to reach out to U.S. officials to see if maybe the U.S. can provide some assurances that things will not -- that the U.S. will be there if things go -- if that chaos tries to reach Kurdistan and that the U.S. will help preserve that success if the chaos tries to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Everybody has an interest in Iraq succeeding. The President wouldn't have put so much time into the review that he conducted and he wouldn't have devoted the resources that we are devoting if he didn't believe that we could make a difference and help the Iraqis succeed. So we have a great interest in seeing that Iraqis succeed. What the Iraqis need to understand is that if they are to succeed they will succeed together and that they have to collectively solve their problems. They're all in this together in the formation of this government, the Sunni, Shia, Kurd, and everybody else.

We have every interest in seeing that the kind of prosperity and stability that has been seen in the north Iraq is also present in other areas of Iraq, especially including in areas in Baghdad and around Baghdad and we're going to do everything that we can to support the Iraqis as they try to build an Iraq that's more stable, more secure and more democratic. And so that you do see the successes that you have seen, for instance, in the north replicated elsewhere in Iraq.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. in a position to offer separate assurances to the Kurds?

MR. MCCORMACK: We believe in the territorial integrity of Iraq. We believe in the Government that has been elected by all Iraqis that is designed to represent all Iraqis and is designed to work for all Iraqis. Our job is to help that government work on behalf of all of its citizens.

QUESTION: About this -- the refugees, the Iraqi refugees, the Secretary said yesterday that she authorized your charge' in Damascus to talk about the refugees with the Syrians. Would U.S. be ready to give any assistance to Syria about - for these refugees?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the main -- first of all, I don't think any of those conversations have taken place yet. I would expect in the next couple days that they do. Look we're working very closely with UNHCR, the UN Commissioner -- High Commissioner for Refugees on the issue. We -- I can't tell you exactly how our assistance is channeled, but I believe it is channeled through UNHCR as well as through NGOs operating on the ground. I can't tell you that that assistance goes directly to -- would go to the Syrian Government. I don't think it does, but we can check that out for you.


QUESTION: We understand there's an Uzbek human rights activist who works for Human Rights Watch has been detained. I believe her name is Niyazova. If you don't have anything on it now, that's fine. But if you could check into it, I would appreciate.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. She's been detained in Uzbekistan?

QUESTION: In Uzbekistan, yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Sure.


QUESTION: Sean, go back to Taiwan, please?


QUESTION: Yeah. Well, in addition to the rectification issue that you haven't comment on and in terms of U.S. policy, does the U.S. have any specific -- has any specific or redline issues that you do not expect the Taiwanese Government to touch upon?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, it's not that it didn't have any comment on it. I said that I wanted to understand the facts better and that we would offer some comment, based on the -- our assessment of the facts as you've described them. But the primary interest of the United States remains the maintenance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. The United States does not support Taiwan independence and opposes unilateral steps by either side that would change the status quo. As we have said many times before, we do not support administrative steps by Taiwan authorities that would appear to change Taiwan's status unilaterally or move towards independence. The United States does not, for instance, support changes in terminology for entities administered by Taiwan authorities. President Chen's fulfillment of his commitments will be a test of leadership, dependability and statesmanship, as well the ability to protect Taiwan's interests, its relations with others and to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.


QUESTION: If you don't have anything on that, we understand. Do you -- are you aware of the fact that Peru asked for the -- requested the extradition of the brother of the former President Fujimori?

MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't heard that.

QUESTION: Can you look into it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. We'll check into it, yeah.


QUESTION: Any reports out of the Somalia Contact Group in Dar es Salaam? I know that Assistant Secretary Frazer's there and there's been a problem raising the number of troops who would go into Somalia.

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't talked to Jendayi. I haven't gotten any reports back on it. I saw that she made a couple comments in the press, but I don't have anything beyond that for you, Dave.

QUESTION: Changing the subject?


QUESTION: Going to Iran. Today top negotiator of Iran, Ali Larijani is supposed to meet with Mohamed ElBaradei, but he canceled his trip there. Do you know about it? Do you have any --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know why he would have canceled this trip.

QUESTION: Do you support the timeout proposal of ElBaradei regarding the Iran nuclear --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we support is Iran meeting the conditions laid out by the international community, and that is ending their reprocessing and enrichment-related activities. If that happens, certainly the international community can -- there's an offer out there to negotiate with them. So we'll see if the Iranians choose to take them up on that offer. Thus far, they've given no indication that they are going to do so.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Farah has one. Another one, shall I say.

QUESTION: Yes. Has Satterfield or any other State Department official met with any representative in the Kurdish government this week or are any meetings planned?

MR. MCCORMACK: Can't tell you. I'm sure on any given week he talks to somebody from the Kurdish regions.

QUESTION: No, I said met with, here in Washington.

MR. MCCORMACK: Or met with. Yeah, I don't know.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:09 p.m.)

DPB # 24

Released on February 9, 2007

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