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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 15, 2007


Congressional Budget Justification for FY 2008 Foreign Operations
Secretary Rice's Foreign Assistance Reform / Country-by-Country Breakdown
U.S./Quartet Relations to Potential Palestinian Government of National Unity
Secretary Rice's Meetings with President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert
Uncertainties Concerning Formation of Possible National Unity Government
U.S. Talking to Palestinians at Various Levels / Secretary's Trip
Three-Way Meeting / Quartet Principles are Clear
Issue on the Removal of North Korea from State Sponsor Terrorists List
Continued Violence / Issue of Civil War / U.S. Urges Restraint from Violence
Hill Testimony on Reported Iranian Proposal / Flynt Leverett / Richard Armitage
U.S. Assessment of Document / Swiss Channel
International Community's Responsibility to Act / Request for Donation of Troops
Bashir's Acceptance of Deployment of All Three Phases in Addis Ababa Accord
Constant Assessments Made on Situation / Efforts to End Humanitarian
President Bashir's Alleged Pressure on African Countries on Troop Contributions
Limited Pool of Combat-Capable Troops / Discussions on How to Fill in Gaps
U.S. View on Electoral Process / Foundations of Democracy
Reports of Terrorist Threats Against Energy Lifelines
INF Treaty / U.S. - Russian Cooperation on Missile Defense


12:00 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. And a shout out to Matt Lee, who is back in our presence here after -- how many years absence?

QUESTION: Two years.

MR. MCCORMACK: Two years absence. Welcome him back.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: He's going to be back on the firing line, I think probably next week, taking shots at my deputy, Tom Casey, here.

I don't have any opening statements, but I would like however to draw your attention to one document that we have recently put out. I have a prop today. This is the Congressional Budget Justification for our FY '08 Foreign Operations Budget. Let me explain to you why this is noteworthy.

It's the first budget justification under our -- Secretary Rice's foreign assistance reform. It's for the first time in a single integrated request. Both the State Department and USAID have put together -- put down in one place their budget justification. It's easy to use. I don't know if any of you have had an opportunity to flip through it, but you can look through country by country as well as by issue area and see exactly how the United States Government is spending its money in terms of foreign assistance -- the State Department and USAID parts of it.

We're very excited about it. This is one of the reforms that Secretary Rice instituted when she came into the building here. Someone once asked her a really simple question -- it was actually one of your colleagues: How much money does the United States Government, the State Department and USAID, spend on democracy promotion around the world? And she couldn't give an answer to that question because the budget was so fragmented you just couldn't sort through all the various bits and pieces. And so now for the first time we can actually give that comprehensive answer.

In FY 2006, we spent $1.233 billion. We're under a continuing resolution right now so would I expect that amount would be similar for this current fiscal year. Our FY '08, 2008 request, is $1.447 billion. So I realize it is -- nobody is going to have this on their bedside stand, but it's actually a manifestation of an important reform that the Secretary instituted. I think it's good for the Executive Branch, it's good for Congress; it's a transparent, clear explanation of how we are allocating our money. It's a great management tool so that we can be effective stewards of the taxpayers' dollars and make sure that our dollars are actually furthering our policies in all the places around the world where we want to do it.

So that's my paid advertisement that you guys had to listen to as I'm standing up here, so I'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Does it actually have a table in there which lists your FY '08 request country by country with all the programs aggregated?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I invite you to take a look at it.

QUESTION: I'd love a copy of it. But if it doesn't have that in it, I don't want to see it.

MR. MCCORMACK: We can get it for you. Country by country, it lists all the programs and the explanations. And it will all -- you can also take a look and it will do it by objective area and element; for example, you know, I just quoted for you the --

QUESTION: No, I get it, I get it. The reason I ask is that the holy grail for years, which you guys have never been able to come with and produce for us publicly on budget day, is actually the breakdown country by country and for the aggregate figures so we'd know that the U.S. Government is giving 2 billion to this country and 3 billion to that one.

MR. MCCORMACK: For foreign assistance?


MR. MCCORMACK: This will do it for you.

QUESTION: I'd like a copy.

MR. MCCORMACK: Country by country, it'll tell you. So I have at least one taker here. I don't know. Matt, this is the kind of thing that you get into.

QUESTION: Does it include IMET?

MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?

QUESTION: Does it include IMET?

MR. MCCORMACK: It doesn't include IMET, no.

QUESTION: Does it include the '07 numbers?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we're under a continuing resolution so the '07 numbers would be a carryover from '06.

QUESTION: And it has '06?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it has '06 in it.

QUESTION: Is it available online?

MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?

QUESTION: Is it available online?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we're trying to -- we have hard copies of it. We're trying to find if it's available online. That would certainly be --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- help you if you downloaded it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, exactly. It would certainly be, you would think, an effective use of resources. So we'll -- if you're interested, we will find you a copy, and if it's online we'll get you the email address as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Regardless of whether the United States Government has yet taken decisions on how it may treat with future members of Palestinian unity government should one come into being, have you communicated any thoughts to the Palestinians about how you might deal with non-Hamas members?

The reason we ask is that Palestinian officials are saying, I think some now on the record, that it has been conveyed to them that the United States Government does not think it would be able to deal with non-Hamas members of a Palestinian unity government that did not accept the Quartet principles. Are they wrong?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let's back up. Where are we in this process? You don't have a national -- a government of national unity. You don't know who's in that government, you don't know the platform of that government. You don't know if it comes into existence, what they are going to say about their policies and what they're actually going to do. So you have a lot of blanks here to fill in. And on the basis of that lack of facts, I can't offer you an answer as to how the United States or the Quartet is going to relate to a potential government of national unity.

What we have said and clearly in the Quartet statement is the kind of government that we would hope for the Palestinian people and the kind of government that they would deserve would abide by the Quartet principles which were reaffirmed as recently as this current week. That's what we hope for the Palestinian people. There's a lot of ferment within the Palestinian political system right now. We can see that. You saw some of that evident in Mecca and that continues, as they are still trying to resolve -- find the answers to a lot of the questions that still exist out there. We can't answer those questions for them. The Egyptians can't answer those questions for them. Israelis can't, the Saudis can't. They need to answer those questions for themselves. So we -- the ball is in their court at this point.

What I can say is that Secretary Rice is determined to go forward with her trip, her meetings with President Abbas, Prime Minister Olmert, as well as with the two of them together. And she is going to lend her full support and her energy to try to move this process forward, so that we can support the two parties in coming together to resolve all the differences that may exist between them from large to small. And that's what -- why she is going out to the region on this next trip.

Clearly, the uncertainties concerning the formation of a possible national unity government have added to the complexity of the system -- of the situation and we will deal with those in turn. But if you waited for perfect clarity to all the issues in the Middle East and all those unanswered -- currently unanswered questions in the Middle East, you would never -- the plane would never take off. It'd save a lot of jet fuel, but you would never get involved. So despite the fact that it is a more complex situation because you have these uncertainties, Secretary Rice is determined to do what she can to help bring the parties together to work on those issues that they can resolve and to start a conversation. That's the whole idea, start the conversation that hasn't yet been had for six years now.

QUESTION: Is she or anyone else offering advice -- and you can say that we can't answer the questions for the Palestinians, but you might be able to offer some guidance on what the U.S. view of various outcomes would be?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, of course, we're talking to the Palestinians at various levels. I can't catalog all those interactions for you. But our public and private advice is the same. You can see it in the Quartet statement. That is the core of our policy position that the Palestinian people deserve that kind of government -- the government that can meet their expectations as well as the expectations of the international community.

QUESTION: Have the Palestinians or the Israelis suggested that it might be useful to postpone this meeting until there's more clarity?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware that anybody is -- anybody who's at this point backing off having these meetings. And certainly Secretary Rice sees value in going forward with them. As I said, if everybody waited for the perfect moment when you had clarity on all issues and all complexities were resolved in the Middle East, then you wouldn't do anything.

QUESTION: Isn't there a risk that the Secretary might squander some of her credibility on this issue if you come out with nothing on Monday because the two sides are still too far apart?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, it's not designed as a set of meetings that is going to result in a formal outcome. It is designed to start a series of conversations, we would hope, between the Palestinians and the Israelis dealing with all variety of questions, whether those are quality of -- so-called quality of life issues that are rooted in some of the security concerns on both sides or with respect to the political horizon for both sides involving the very difficult issues that we all know exist out there. But it's important to start that conversation because they haven't talked about those things really in a serious way at that high level for really six years. There have been some intermittent contacts but not in a serious way. So that's what Secretary Rice hopes to achieve out of this trip is to start that conversation.


MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Charles.

QUESTION: These meetings -- and you said you're not aware that anyone's backing off of these meetings. You're including the three-way meeting?


QUESTION: Okay. And the reason I ask is because there are rumors in Israel that Prime Minister Olmert may not be so sure about having a three-way meeting.

MR. MCCORMACK: We haven't heard any desire to reschedule the meeting for a later date.


QUESTION: Do you think that all of you, meaning not only you and the Israelis but also all the members of the Quartet, are of the same mind in terms of what constitutes recognition of the Quartet principles? I mean is there a definition of how to accept the Quartet principles and how they're enshrined? Does it have to be reiterating them? It seems to be that the definition is a little bit fuzzy to some members of the Quartet.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, I think the principles are clear. The question then becomes --

QUESTION: How do you iterate them?

MR. MCCORMACK: -- how does a Palestinian government manifest its acceptance of those principles. And, well, I'm not going to try to provide a particular roadmap for them. They can -- they within their own political system can work out the answer to that question. And then once you have the answer to that question, the Quartet will look at what it is that the Palestinians say and do and they'll make that judgment. So the short answer is we'll see.

QUESTION: Are you saying that the acceptance could be implicit and not explicit?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let's wait for the answers to come from the Palestinians and then that will be the time when you can make -- we, the Quartet, can make a judgment on that question.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: On North Korea. For the North Korean side, what sort of requirements are there and what steps should they take in order for the U.S. to start the process of removing them from the list of state sponsors of terror?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's going to be -- there's a working group that's going to be established and part of what they're going to talk about is this process. Getting on the state sponsor of terrorists list has certain legal and regulatory requirements. In our judgment, North Korea met those when we listed them and you have to go through, in a methodical way, look at the facts, look at the evidence and start that process. And if the facts and the evidence merit their being de-listed then that will happen. So what we have committed is to start that process, to take a look at it. I can't tell you exactly how long that process will take. Again, it will have to be done strictly in accordance with the law and in strict accordance with the facts as we know them. If there are more facts that we need or gaps in our information, I'm sure that we will be in touch with the North Koreans and get that information from them.

QUESTION: A follow-up. So it wouldn't be fair to say that the U.S. has already agreed to remove North Korea from the state sponsors --

MR. MCCORMACK: What we've agreed is to start the process.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: A Moroccan delegation was in Washington earlier --

MR. MCCORMACK: Which delegation?

QUESTION: A Moroccan, from Morocco, was in Washington earlier this week and had talks in the State Department. Do you have any comments on these talks and their content?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to check into that for you. I don't have any information I can share with you right now.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Do you have a -- yes?

QUESTION: The International Crisis Group has warned that the continued violence in Guinea could escalate into a civil war. Do you have any comment on the situation there?

MR. MCCORMACK: We're very concerned about it. It's -- we have in place an authorized departure for our dependents and so we are quite concerned about the political situation there and the fact that the instability within the political system can lead to violence. So we're watching it very closely. We urge all the parties involved to back away from any violence and to resolve any differences that they may have through peaceful political means.


QUESTION: Do you want to respond to Flynt Leverett's comments? I saw you were quoted on the wires yesterday, but we haven't talked about it in the briefing, when he said that Secretary Rice was misleading Congress last week about this apparent Iran proposal that she said she never saw.

MR. MCCORMACK: In which respect was she allegedly misleading Congress?

QUESTION: That she said she never saw it.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's right. She said that she has no recollection of having seen it or being aware of this. So I'm not sure on what basis Mr. Leverett is leveling that accusation. She has said repeatedly, and this is a question that has come up. For some time I think Flynt has been out sort of flogging this story for some time, for about a year now. And each time, in public and private, she has given the same response, and that is she has no recollection of having seen such an offer.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: He maintains that he let senior members of the NSC staff --

MR. MCCORMACK: Has he ever said that he gave Secretary Rice a piece of paper?

QUESTION: No, he --

MR. MCCORMACK: As a matter of fact, the news quote that I saw -- and I think it was the New York Times or Washington Post story -- said when somebody pushed him on that particular point, he backed off and said, well, you know, it must have been Elliott Abrams or somebody else who had stopped Secretary Rice from seeing it. So I'm just -- I'm a little unclear on what basis he is saying this.

QUESTION: Well, he maintains that -- I mean, I don't think he maintains that he personally handed it to Secretary Rice. He --

MR. MCCORMACK: And then how -- then how would he know that she saw it and then how would he know that -- on what basis is he making the accusation that she misled somebody?

QUESTION: Well, he maintains that after handing it to members of the senior staff, the discussions that was -- that ensued after he handed it to it was that the proposal was rejected. And he says that, you know, given the level of discussion that was about the proposal that he believes that Secretary Rice did see it. And he said that she's impinging his --

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, so he believes -- he believes that she saw it? Okay. All I'm -- I'm just trying to make a point here. Let's deal with the facts. And it seems as though that we have somebody who is making some accusations that, based on what we all know now in public, don't seem to be backed up by any facts. And you have Secretary Rice who has said very clearly every single time that she has been asked about this, she has given the same answer.

QUESTION: Well, when the Secretary was National Security Advisor, if there was a proposal coming from Iran for some of the specific things that Iran was offering to do in this proposal, I mean, is it conceivable that she possibly wouldn't have seen the proposal?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, all I can do is I can point you back to public statements by Deputy Secretary Armitage, who was asked this question. He was quoted in Newsweek magazine and he cast doubt on the legitimacy and the providence of this document. And you can go back and look at the quote for yourself when he talked about we didn't know how much of this came from the Swiss ambassador and how much came from the Iranians.

Look, the past three decades is littered with individuals approaching the United States, as well as others, purporting to speak in an authoritative manner in behalf of the highest levels of the Iranian Government making approaches to the United States. And certainly the United States has in those cases where there have been serious approaches have taken a look at them. In this particular case you have Secretary Armitage, who is stating in public we don't know how much came from the Swiss ambassador and how much came from the Iranians. That's not the basis on which a government interacts with another on this kind of serious proposal.

So again, I know there are a lot of accusations that are being thrown around out there, but I would just urge you to actually be a little more careful with the facts.

QUESTION: So, Sean, when Flynt Leverett says this is serious proposal, he was quoted as saying that, that this was a serious proposal, that's not how Deputy Secretary Armitage saw it and that's -- and Rice never saw it, so --

MR. MCCORMACK: You can -- I mean, I'm just quoting back what he said in public. You can go ask him yourself.

QUESTION: But it's your understanding that it never got to a level where it was a serious proposal.

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you know, I'm not going to try to characterize it. I haven't -- you know, I wasn't involved in the process. Secretary Rice has said she has no recollection of having seen it or being aware of it. I can only point you to those individuals who were involved in the process of examining it at the time. The Secretary -- Deputy Secretary Armitage has said that he was one of those people and he -- you can ask him yourself. You can look at the public record

QUESTION: But -- I'm sorry. I mean, if there's a proposal and Deputy Secretary Armitage -- does the Deputy Secretary of State have the authority within the channels of protocol to decide whether a proposal of that nature is serious or not serious? I mean, it's -- how could it be something that the National Security Advisor would not be involved in the discussions of whether a proposal of that nature was serious? I mean, he is saying that there was a proposal.

MR. MCCORMACK: Elise, nobody is disputing that there was a fax that came out without any markings on it to the State Department. I think you can talk to all the people involved in reviewing it. Some of them are in government, some of them are out of government. What Secretary Rice said is she's not one of those people. As for individuals' impressions of it, you can go ask them. As for Deputy Secretary Armitage, he's the number two guy in the State Department. It's a position of responsibility and authority. And I have no reason to question his assessment of this particular document.

QUESTION: Well, Sean, if you have no reason to question that, (inaudible) years and years and years, the Swiss Embassy, the Swiss Government, has been the channel through which the United States communicated with the Iranians, is Deputy Secretary Armitage -- former Deputy Secretary Armitage's assessment of this that the Swiss are no longer a reliable interlocutor for dealing with Iran? And so how much of this is coming from the Swiss ambassador? Isn't this the kind of thing that you guys got all the time for the past three decades, as you say?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's not the point I believe that former Deputy Secretary of State Armitage was making. What he -- the point he was making was he did not understand himself exactly how much of this was the personal involvement of the Swiss ambassador. Now, as for the Swiss channel, this is a channel through which we exchange information, through which we exchange diplomatic notes. So it is not a policy formation channel. It is a communications channel. So the question was really how much of this was the Swiss --

QUESTION: I realize the question that they're asking --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I'm answering your question.

QUESTION: This is separate.

MR. MCCORMACK: The question was how much of this was the personal involvement in the -- of the Swiss ambassador in coming up with a policy proposal. That is not what the Swiss channel is used for.

QUESTION: Okay. So this was the -- so his impression was that this was the Swiss trying to make U.S. policy or trying to influence U.S. policy?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look back at Rich Armitage's words.


QUESTION: Andrew Natsios said yesterday that the humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly in Darfur and that there's a -- the Sudanese Government is putting more and more pressure on aid groups to leave and that the Janjaweed could go into the camps and try and close them down using violence. At what point -- given this background, are you looking at a more coercive strategy in Darfur at the moment? And how close are you to implementing that coercive strategy if the situation really is deteriorating so rapidly on the ground? Do you not have a responsibility to do more?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the international community has a responsibility to act and we have been speaking out regarding that responsibility for quite some time. It is absolutely essential that member-states of the United Nations meet the request for donations of troops so that we can -- so that the United Nations and the AU can deploy in full, according to the Addis Ababa agreement in Darfur and to stop the suffering, to help humanitarian organizations deliver that aid to those who need it most. And most importantly, to see an end or a real reduction in the violence that is taking place in Darfur. It's of grave concern to the United States as well as the international community.

In our view, and the view of many others, President Bashir has, in fact, accepted in principle the deployment of all three phases according to the Addis Ababa accord. It is now up to the United Nations to generate the forces that would meet the requirements that have been laid out for phases one, two and three.

As for the United States policy actions, we are taking a close look at the situation. We are taking a look at the actions of Sudan as well as others in the international community and we're constantly making assessments about what other policy steps or diplomatic levers we, and/or the international community might apply in order to change the situation. That's what diplomacy is all about, trying to use whatever leverage you may have, either individually or collectively, to try to effect a situation to meet the objectives you've laid out. In this case, to end the humanitarian suffering in Darfur so that you can get the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement as well as creating a more stable situation in Sudan as a whole and you can also continue with the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

So the short answer is we're constantly looking at that. At this point, we don't have any policy changes to announce but it is something we're looking at very closely to see what other leverage we might -- we, as well as the international community, might use.

QUESTION: I mean, that's all very well to put pressure on the UN for countries to come forward. But the reality on the ground is that the situation is becoming worse and worse. Isn't it time to quickly take action? It's going to take months before you get UN troops in, even if the government were to come out of Sudan and say, yes, they can come in, it's going to take months. So from a practical perspective, what do you think could be done -- you know, in the very short term to help these people on the ground who in camps are suffering more and more attacks, massacres, villages are being burned?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sue, nobody's disputing it is a terrible situation. You can't help but see the pictures there. I've been there. I've seen the just unimaginable conditions in which these people live and it is a tragedy -- it's beyond a tragedy. But the United States is not in a position by itself to unilaterally change the situation in Darfur. We wish that it were, but that is just simply not the case. Those aren't the facts. That is not the reality.

So what we are trying to do is everything that we possibly can to change those set of facts so that you do have a changed situation. And it is absolutely essential that member states of the UN step up and make those troop contributions, because without those troop contributions you're never going to get to a phase three deployment. And as a result, you're never going to be able to change the situation and make it a more stable situation. And when people talk about the timelines that it takes for the UN peacekeeping operations to operate under, our response is, well, reduce them. Do everything that you can to shorten those timelines. This is not business as usual. This is not get out your set playbook and this is how we do it in every single case. This is not one of those cases and we are conveying that message as well. We've conveying that message to member states as well as to the UN.

QUESTION: You said before that it was necessary for contributor nations to come up with the troops so as to be able to test whether or not the Bashir government actually plans to allow in the full deployment. I guess the question fundamentally, though, is if you don't get those troops does Plan B -- your more coercive action plan -- just simply go away? I mean, if you can't get the troops, you can't test it, then you simply give up on additional steps.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it doesn't.

QUESTION: So you might come to a conclusion, at some point, you're not going to get the UN troops in. You're still going to try lean on --

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, we have -- we, as well as the other members of the international system, have a lot of levers at our disposal. And we're going to take a look at what levers, at a given point in time, will be most effective in achieving the objective that we all want to see.

Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: Sean, there were reports that President Bashir isn't actually intimidating African countries not to contribute troops so that he plausible deniability that -- you know, hey, I'd be happy to admit African troops but nobody's volunteering. I mean, are you aware of this? Have you heard reports about this and is there any -- if true, is there any additional leverage you can use on the government to stop putting pressure on its neighbors?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not in a position to confirm such reports. I've seen them. What we would say to those states who were allegedly being coerced in some form or fashion by the Sudanese Government not to contribute troops, we would say that it is your responsibility, it is your responsibility because of the nature of the situation to make those contributions.

QUESTION: Sean, you're only talking about African countries because I think under the agreement only African countries are allowed to provide combatants. Is that correct? And other countries outside of Africa can provide logistics, communications, et cetera, right?


QUESTION: So that's what you're really talking about is African troops stepping up to the plate.


QUESTION: Now, Cameron Hume, who's the chargé in Khartoum, said the other day that there are only 10,000 troops in the entire continent available for this type of duty, some of whom will be assigned to Somalia. So you're really talking about a relatively small pool, not nearly enough to meet the requirements of the Addis agreement. I mean, it seems to me that this is worth addressing. And if you can talk about that, that would be interesting because I think this is a fundamental problem that you have out there.

MR. MCCORMACK: It is. It is a problem because you have requirements as you point out in Somalia. You have requirements in Sudan and there's a limited pool of -- for lack of a better term -- combat capable troops, troops that are able to deploy in these types of situations.

There are outside countries that can help, they can be enabling forces, they can provide a lot of logistics and those things will be needed. I think there's no denying that this would constitute a burden on the resource capabilities of potential troop contributing nations. But there is a capacity -- there is sufficient capacity there, we believe, that can make a real difference in deploying all the way up to phase three.

So regardless of the overall size of the potential pool, I can't tell you if 10,000 is an accurate figure. I have no reason to dispute Cameron. But I can't tell you if that's our U.S. Government assessment or the assessment of the UN peacekeeping forces. Okay, so it could be a strain on African forces, but that doesn't -- that is not a reason not to contribute as much as you possibly can to these forces.

QUESTION: What kind of alternatives are you looking at with your allies on this, for example, the meeting last week in Oslo with -- looking at how to proceed on Sudan? I mean, what are the Europeans saying to you and are you working out together how you can proceed if you can't get enough UN troops? Will this be a kind of joint effort with the Nordic countries as well?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we're talking to -- I have to confess, I haven't had a detailed conversation with Andrew about his trip there. But we are talking to the Europeans as well as others about how you fill some of these gaps. Some of the gaps that exist are with respect to engineers, with respect to lift and other types of forces. So yes, we are talking to them about the basics of how do you fill in all the gaps here, but also we are coordinating with them on, as I said, what are those other steps that might be taken in order to move the process forward.

Mr. Gollust.

QUESTION: Sean, do you have anything to reflect on concerning the electoral process in Turkmenistan where --

MR. MCCORMACK: As a matter of fact, I do.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) Berdymukhammedov won by a rather improbable margin?

MR. MCCORMACK: It seems 89 percent. I think he -- 89 percent of the vote? That's better than 99. (Laughter.)

We have watched the electoral process to select the new President of Turkmenistan. This process represents a modest step toward political electoral change that could help create the conditions in the future for a free, fair, open and truly competitive elections that meet international standards. We are encouraged by the decision to present multiple candidates to the electorate which signals the possibility for change in future elections and offers an opportunity for more open political discussions inside Turkmenistan for the first time.

Democracy takes time to establish. We encourage the Government of Turkmenistan to take the essential first steps toward establishing a more transparent and open society and to be steadfast throughout the transition process.

QUESTION: Sean, do you intend to engage the government normally?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect that we will maintain a level of engagement. Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher went to the inauguration, so that is an indication that we are ready to engage this new government. As I pointed out, we view this as a modest first step. But let's also remember that this is a country that is emerging from the shadows only three months out from a cult of personality dictatorship. So they are making the first baby steps beyond that. So I think that we have offered a sober assessment of this electoral process. We encourage further such steps and we are going to engage with the government to offer that encouragement.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) wonder why democracy deferred is not democracy denied.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't get your point.

QUESTION: My point is that when you tell them democracy takes time, you know, there are -- the world is full of dictators who keep saying their countries are not ready for democracy. It seems as if that may just encourage people who are not really interested in pursuing full-fledged democracy in this country.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't see how you can say that from what we've just said. The point is that there's no turnkey operation for democracy. There's not one single answer that is appropriate for every country around the world. Democracy in Central Asia, South Asia, Latin America isn't going to look like democracy in the United States, nor should it. Our particular system of governance and values system is based on our history and a unique set of factors. That is going to vary in each particular case.

How it evolves around the world will vary, but there are certain fundamental elements that form the foundation of a democracy: freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom to choose those who will lead you. But I guess this is perhaps a case of theory versus reality. You know, in theory, overnight you can expect people to make the change in which -- from a state of being in which they are told exactly what to think and to do every single day, and then the next day expect them to be able to operate in a free and open society in a way that we would recognize as a democratic society. That's just not the reality.

But just because that is not the reality does not mean that you can't work with them every step along the way to encourage them in the right direction. The important arc is the strategic arc over the course of the years. Anytime you have these sort of transitions in societies there are going to be steps forward, there are going to be steps back. But you want to see what the overall progress is. In this case, we're two months in to that and I would argue that it's a little early to be making sweeping judgments.


QUESTION: Can I just ask you what you make of these threats by the Saudi Arabian terror group to oil facilities? Do you think it's a credible group? Do you think it's a credible threat? How seriously are you taking it?

MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen the news reports. I haven't checked with our -- I haven't had a chance to check in depth with our counterterrorism guys. But as I've seen the news report, this is an al-Qaida-related group that is making threats against energy lifelines, and of course you have to take these sorts of threats seriously. You take all the threats seriously, you investigate them and then you see based on your investigation of the facts what it is that you need to do. In every case that doesn't mean that you take actions. I can't tell you in this particular case what the validity of the threat is, but we do take them seriously.

Kirit, a late breaker.

QUESTION: Just if you had any comment on the apparent Russian decision possibly to pull out of the missile treaty?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we're still looking into the specific provisions of the INF treaty, but I would just make the basic point that our efforts to deploy missile defense systems around the world, and in this case we're working very closely with the Czech and the Polish governments to develop a system in Central Europe, is in no way directed at the Russian strategic forces. This is in no way directed at Russia. As a matter of fact, we have offered to cooperate with Russia on missile defense because we believe that we face a common set of threats emanating from the Middle East as well as other areas. And this is -- this architecture is designed to protect against those threats. It's designed to help protect us as well as our friends and allies.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. talking to the Russians about this to get some confirmation or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I have to check to see if we've had any formal communication on this. I know that there was a public statement from an individual. I can't tell you whether or not that has been conveyed in formal channels or not.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:43 p.m.)

DPB # 27

Released on February 15, 2007

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