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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 23, 2007


U.S. Position on Use of Cluster Munitions / Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons / Technical Upgrades and Clean-up / An Issue of Humanitarian Concern in International System
Query on Cluster Munitions to Israel / Ongoing Investigation / Initial Report Given to Congress
Missile Defense System in Czech Republic and Poland
Dr. ElBaradei's Visit to Pyongyang/ Six-Party Talks
HEU Program / Implementation of an Agreement /IAEA / Full Declaration of Nuclear Programs / September 2005 Agreement
Working to Set up U.S. - North Korea Working Group / Benchmarks / First Steps in Fulfilling Requirements
Issue on Additional Sanctions / Interactions with Turkish Government
Options on Table / Confronting Iranian Behavior / U.S. Committed to Diplomatic Pathway
Aid to Cambodia / Congressional Restrictions / 2007 Appropriations Bill


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12:36 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Afternoon, Lambros, how you doing?

QUESTION: Fine, how are you?


QUESTION: How was the Middle East?

MR. MCCORMACK: It was good, a little tiring but -- you know, I'm doing okay. Thank you for asking.

Who wants to start off with questions? George.

QUESTION: I believe you took a question on the U.S. position concerning the move to make cluster bombs illegal. Do you have something on that for us?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there was recently a meeting in Norway. I think that it was taking place today or over the course of the next couple of days. We didn't send a representative to this meeting. This gets pretty technical pretty quickly but basically there is already a negotiating forum called the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Now they've already come up with a treaty. We have forwarded this to the Senate. We believe that this is the appropriate forum and mechanism by which this issue of cluster munitions should be addressed. We ourselves have already taken a couple of other steps with regard to technical upgrades to cluster munitions as well as looking very closely at the rules of engagement, how they are used. So it is something that over the course of the years we have looked at very closely, we have taken very seriously the international discussion with respect to the threat posed by unexploded ordinance to innocent civilians. So we've addressed that in a couple of ways.

One, the technical upgrades as well as rules of engagement -- upgrades that I just talked about. The second is we have also spent a significant amount of money over the course of the past decade or so in the clean up of these unexploded munitions all around the world. We'll have a fact sheet out for you later. But the bottom line is we spent about a billion dollars over this period of time in the clean up, in places ranging from East Asia to Southeast Europe to the Middle East. So it is an issue that we know is a great humanitarian concern in the international system. It's an issue of humanitarian concern for us. We, however, take the position that these munitions do have a place and a use in military inventories, given the right technology as well as the proper rules of engagement.


QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that actually?


QUESTION: I think it was said a couple of weeks ago that there's been no shipment of these munitions to Israel since the war last summer. Is that still the case?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to check for you, Kirit. I honestly haven't checked on that recently. There's an ongoing investigation on our side as well as the Israeli side. I don't think that we have been asked by Congress to follow up on our initial report that we sent up there within the past couple of months. I can't remember the exact date. So I'm not aware of any shipment or non-shipment at this point. We can look into it for you.

QUESTION: What's the latest on that investigation and where's that stand and what's the next step?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, if memory serves, we forwarded an initial report to Congress as was required under the Arms Export Control Act; that's done. We are still gathering some information from the Israeli side. They still have an investigation that is ongoing.

Now in terms of further actions with respect to a final report that requires the Congress to come back to us and ask us to take another step. On our own, we of course, are going to take a look at what further information we are able to generate in our -- look at this as well as from the Israelis. If there are any steps that we need to take, we're of course going to take them.

QUESTION: And so you haven't heard back from Congress, you said, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: To my knowledge we haven't.


QUESTION: Yes, Mr. McCormack.


QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried and Air Force General Oberling told us yesterday at the Foreign Press Center that Europe, which means also Greece, is facing a threat from North Korean missiles and the U.S. must counter them deploying missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland. Since you reached an agreement with North Korea recently, why do you proceed in this policy?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I honestly haven't looked at that whole transcript. What I suspect --

QUESTION: They said --

MR. MCCORMACK: What I suspect that they were talking about was the threat posed by the North Korean missile technologies in the Middle East. Now, of course, we know that Iran and North Korea have in the past had a relationship which they --

QUESTION: But this is Europe, though.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm getting to that. So it is -- again, I haven't looked at the transcript, but I suspect what he's talking about is the threat posed by the export of that North Korean missile technology to states in the Middle East. Now to get to your question, we are concerned about the threat posed by possible missile launches from some states in the Middle East. We have referred specifically to Iran in this regard in the past.

And so that is our motivation behind working with friends and allies in Europe in constructing a missile -- part of a missile defense architecture there. Now we are working with a variety of different countries on this. This is a global effort. We have recently talked to Poland the Czech Republic concerning actual deployment of this architecture. But this is a process and a system that is going to evolve over time. So just because now you have systems deployed potentially in the Czech Republic as well as in Poland, that doesn't mean that through other avenues of cooperation the architecture might change and evolve over time.

So the bottom line is it is designed to help protect our friends and allies as well as our interests in the United States from missile launches emanating from the Middle East as well as from other areas of the globe.

QUESTION: One more. They told us also that Europe is facing threat by Iranian missiles, as you said --


QUESTION: -- and U.S. should deploy counter missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland. I am wondering why you don't deploy them in strategic areas of Turkey which are closer to Iran in order to counter them.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this gets into technical questions of the point of intercept and how much warning you need to have in order to intercept the missiles and how much reaction time you need in order to determine if it is, in fact, a missile -- incoming missile threat. So it gets really complicated about points of interception and all sorts of technical calculations that I, frankly, am not qualified to discuss.

QUESTION: Did you --

MR. MCCORMACK: The technical experts determined that based on the threat that they saw at this time, that those locations were optimal for the placement of radar and interceptors in order to counter the threat from missiles --

QUESTION: Did you discuss the issue with the Turkish officials?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you that we did. I'm not sure.

QUESTION: May we assume that you are doing this plan in order to protect European Union from these threats?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, to protect our friends and allies as well as the United States from these threats. And also one other point about your earlier question. Yes, we are -- we do have some -- the Department of Defense referred to it -- a test bed in Alaska that is designed to provide some initial capabilities, rudimentary capabilities to protect from a potential missile launch from North Korea against the United States.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, turning to Dr. ElBaradei's visit to Pyongyang, is it your understanding, as has been publicly reported, that that's going to take place in the first two weeks of March?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think he's in a better position to discuss exactly when it will take place, but I understand it's supposed to take place in the near future. And this is a welcome step. The language in the agreement that the six parties recently signed is that the DPRK, North Korea, will invite back International Atomic Energy Agency personnel to conduct all necessary monitoring and verifications, as agreed between the IAEA and North Korea. And this gets to what North Korea is supposed to do under this initial step and that is to shut down and seal for the purposes of eventual abandonment the Yongbyon nuclear facility including the reprocessing facility. So this is a first step in that initial agreement to get the inspectors back into North Korea to perform those functions. So it is welcome, but it is only part of the step towards fulfilling that initial agreement.

QUESTION: So you do not see it as his mission in any sense to explore anything beyond what is contained in this first implementation round?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in the context of the six-party talks and our interests that is, I believe, what he is intending to go to North Korea to do. It is about implementing this agreement.

QUESTION: Can I also ask about the HEU program in North Korea? Is Dr. ElBaradei in agreement -- is the IAEA as an organization in agreement with the United States that such a program exists there?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you, James, you'd have to ask them. All I can tell you is that when Assistant Secretary Jim Kelly and a U.S. delegation went to North Korea in -- I think it was the fall of 2003 --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- '02 to talk about this, the North Koreans admitted that they had highly enriched uranium program, so that certainly I would take as verification. They admitted to such a program. And under the agreement, the second phase of this agreement, there is -- North Korea has obligated itself to put forth a full declaration of all of its nuclear programs which we all understand would include a highly enriched uranium program.

QUESTION: Is there any record of their admission in 2002? Is there any way to prove that they admitted it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Talk to everybody in the room who was on the American side, including several Korean speakers and they repeatedly asked: Are you actually saying that you have a highly enriched uranium program and the answer back was yes.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the --

MR. MCCORMACK: And they, I'm sure, memorialized those in reporting cables as well.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that they readily acknowledged it or that they denied it at first and came around or?

MR. MCCORMACK: Immaterial. The fact that you admit something is the fact. How you got there is not really relevant.

QUESTION: And how soon after their admission did they start recanting this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't -- yeah, I mean, George is right -- the next day.

QUESTION: And since then, there has never been another acknowledgement from the North Koreans that they had such a program?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: I understand -- my last question on it -- that Assistant Secretary Hill made reference to this yesterday. Is the United States in a better position to prove the existence of such a program today than it was in 2002?

MR. MCCORMACK: What's the point of your question?

QUESTION: I'm trying to avoid the use of a certain word which will enable you to not answer the question, but in other words, have we continued to gather information on this program since 2002 or is the state of our knowledge frozen in 2002 about the --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's not something I could share with you, James, as it gets to intelligence-related information.

QUESTION: Are we in a better position to prove the existence of the program today than we were --

MR. MCCORMACK: James, you know, they admitted to the existence of an HEU program. We take that as a matter of fact. I can't get into what further evidence or information may or may not have been gathered in that time since 2002 to underpin that conclusion.

QUESTION: What I -- now, really, my last question.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. You don't have a lot of competition here, however.

QUESTION: I'll follow up on it when --

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: As you know, when the deal was announced on February the 12th, the implementation deal --


QUESTION: There was criticism of it, including from former Ambassador Bolton --


QUESTION: -- specifically tied to this HEU program and to what Christopher Hill would -- Ambassador Hill acknowledged was our failure to get North Korea to even acknowledge it again, at least at this time. How much of an impediment to going down the denuclearization path with North Korea does it pose that we haven't had them really acknowledge it since 2002? And what do you plan to do about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's a step by step process. We've made very clear that this is intended to go in phases, but what's important is that in September of 2005, they signed the umbrella agreement, which is really the most important agreement that we have here. It's significant, the agreement that we had signed just 10 days ago in Beijing, but that's an implementing agreement for the September 2005 agreement.

And what that September 2005 agreement commits all the parties to, including North Korea, is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, so that means all of their nuclear programs. Now they have admitted to an HEU program. We already know that they have a plutonium-based program. So that means dismantling all of those programs.

QUESTION: One last one, Sean. Would you consider declassifying any of the cable traffic to which you just alluded, which would memorialize their admission in 2002?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think there are any plans to do that.

QUESTION: Would you consider it?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's not my call.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Kind of adding -- just to be very clear on what you were saying earlier, I mean, if North Korea doesn't declare this on the list, this HEU program, is that going to be a stopping point for this deal?

MR. MCCORMACK: We will deal with that moment when we come to it. Right now, you have the agreement that was signed. It makes clear that they have to make a full, complete declaration and that is not -- we are not at that point yet in implementing this agreement, so we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

QUESTION: So you -- but you -- so then you expect this to be on the list when they do declare it?

MR. MCCORMACK: We would expect a full declaration.

QUESTION: Including the HEU program?

MR. MCCORMACK: Full declaration.

Yes. Let him and we'll go back to you afterwards.

QUESTION: At a time when there is talk about additional sanctions on Iran, Iran's Foreign Minister was in Turkey earlier this week and he and the Turkish Government officials agreed in principle on more cooperation on energy, including both gas and oil deals. Any comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's for the Government of Turkey to decide what sort of -- they're neighbors -- what sort of cooperation they have with Iran. Turkey has a full appreciation of the threat posed by Iran's nuclear weapons program and we've had good discussions with them. And we would hope and expect that the Turkish Government, in whatever interactions that it may have with the Iranian Government, will make clear to them that they need to come into compliance with what the rest of the world has asked them to do: suspend their enrichment and reprocessing-related activities and you can realize a different pathway with the rest of the world.

There's an offer out there. It's an attractive offer. The Iranians thus far have not -- have decided not to take up the international community on that offer. As a result, they are finding themselves further and further isolated from the rest of the world. It's unfortunate for the Iranian people. We hope that the Iranian Government would choose a different pathway, and that pathway is still open to them.

QUESTION: A follow-up to that?


QUESTION: Some in the Administration have said that the U.S. is not taking any options off the table with regard to Iran. At the same time --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense --

QUESTION: Yeah. At the same time, people are saying also at the same time that the military option is not what they're going for at this point. Can you just kind of reconcile those two comments, I mean, that they're not mutually exclusive?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the policymaker, somebody who is responsible for protecting the interests of the United States, advancing our diplomatic interests. We are on a diplomatic pathway to try to resolve differences that Iran has with the rest of the world. It's not just the United States.

But we have made it also very clear that we will confront Iranian behavior where it does pose a threat to us; for example, in Iraq where they are involved in the EFD networks. And our forces are going to take steps to protect themselves.

We are also working closely with our friends and allies in the Gulf countries who perceive a threat from Iran. We also have interests in the Persian Gulf making sure that that waterway stays open to the free flow of commerce through a very important and strategic pathway to the rest of the world.

But still, policymakers -- and you never want the President of the United States to ever take any options off the table when he is dealing with the interests of the United States as well as the interests of our friends and allies. But we are very, very clear: We're committed to that diplomatic pathway, and we hope that we and the rest of the world can make it work. We're working really hard at that.

QUESTION: It's an option but it's not an option?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's -- you know, Kirit, this is no different than you've heard from any other president, whether Republican or Democrat. This is not something that's novel or unique to this President.

QUESTION: The ElBaradei visit. The letter that he received from the North Koreans states that they are inviting him to develop a plan to freeze the Yongbyon facilities. It talks just about a freeze. It doesn't say anything about a shutdown, disabling or abandoning. Is there any concern that the North Koreans aren't going to -- don't want to go beyond the freeze stage of this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they have committed otherwise, both in the 2005 agreement and the agreement that they signed just ten days ago, and we would expect that they would abide by that agreement. We're going to work in good faith to uphold our end of that agreement. We are working now with the North Koreans to set up that U.S.-North Korea working group and other members of the six parties are also working in good faith to implement their aspects of it. We're in the early days of this. There are certain benchmarks in terms of what parties are required to do. There are 30-day benchmarks. There are 60-day benchmarks. We're going to work in good faith to uphold our side of the agreement. We expect North Korea would do the same.

And we'll see. We'll see. We would hope that North Korea does signal to the rest of the world that they have made that strategic decision to give up their nuclear weapons programs. We saw an initial indication that that is a possibility just ten days ago, and we would expect them to follow through on it. We hope that they will.

QUESTION: Do you expect during the ElBaradei visit that the discussion would go beyond a freeze with the IAEA at that point?

MR. MCCORMACK: We would expect that it would lead eventually to the fulfillment of the agreement that they signed on to ten days ago, and then eventually to the September 2005 agreement.

QUESTION: But in the initial visit with ElBaradei --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as you said, this is an initial visit. Clearly, within this first phase there are additional steps that they would need to take. This is just the first step in fulfilling those initial -- the requirements of that initial phase.

We'll get back to you, Lambros. Mr. Gollust.

QUESTION: Sean, there's reporting from East Asia that the United States will resume a direct aid relationship with Cambodia, and I believe this was -- aid was cut off several years ago after the extra-constitutional overthrow.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't think the aid was cut off. We still have programs working within Cambodia.

QUESTION: Right. But direct aid government to government, I guess.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right and those were congressional restrictions. And in this year's appropriations bill those conditions were not attached, so as a result there are not those restrictions. The bottom line for us, however, is that that is not going to change the direction, oversight, management or objectives of our work in Cambodia.


QUESTION: Yes. Mr. McCormack, in the framework of the religious freedom for which the U.S. Government is very concerned, could you please comment on reports in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz , H-a-a-r-e-t-z --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I'm familiar with how to spell it.

QUESTION: -- that documents obtained by senior officials from the Israeli Government in order to extort land using threats from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm going to have to get back to you on that one. I don't have any information on it.

QUESTION: Since you are going to check for me, I would like to know if your Consulate General reported on those matters to the State Department and if you are concerned about the state of religious freedom for the Greek Orthodox Christians in Jerusalem?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check into it for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: The Post had a story today about VOA cutbacks. Is that your bailiwick or is that BBG?


QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 12:58 p.m.)

DPB # 32

Released on February 23, 2007

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