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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 1, 2007


U.S. Engaged in Multilateral Diplomacy / Groundwork for Dialogue Laid Long Ago
Six-Party Talk Mechanism Effective in Pathway toward Denuclearization
Regional Conference on Iraq / U.S. Participation Not Inconsistent with Policy
U.S. Wants Iraq's Neighbors to Play Positive Role in Iraq
PKK in Iraq / Cross-Border Operations into Turkey
U.S. and UNHCR Representatives Travel / Humanitarian and Refugee Issues
International Community's Response to Nuclear Program Challenge
Pathway to Negotiation is Open / Iran Has Not Taken Up Offer
Nuclear Program and Status on Disclosed List
Human Rights May Be Addressed at U.S.-North Korea Working Group Meeting
NATO Operations on Greek Island Agio Eftratios
U.S. Supports Implementation of Lausanne Treaty
Terrorism Charges Against David Hicks
Activities of A.Q. Khan / Musharraf's Assertions That Government Did Not Know
Bomb Threat Against U.S. Embassy
Allegations of Border Crossing by Fence Construction Workers
Border and Boundary Commission Used to Resolve Disputes
U.S. Respects Sovereignty of Mexican Territory
Tamil tigers / Efforts at Ceasefire and Dialogue
U.S. Ambassador and Others Injured in Attack, Not Seriously Hurt


12:00 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. We'll work on that. One housekeeping item. What we're going to do is after the briefing stay in your chairs. We're going to have Anne Patterson, who's our Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, give you a special briefing on the rollout of our 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. So just a note for all you, stay in the briefing room, good stuff to follow.


QUESTION: Do you have any news about the P-5+1, the conference call this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I have not had a chance to talk to Nick, other than the fact that the call took place. What we will try to do is I'll get in touch with Nick this afternoon. He's in meetings all morning long and we'll try to provide you a readout via e-mail and get you some points.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.


QUESTION: Sean, what do you make of the commentary that's out there that the Bush Administration is suddenly changing its tune and talking to countries like North Korea, Iran and Syria? What is your response to that? There's been a lot of sort of chatter about it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. It's not very good analysis, frankly. I got asked this question the other day. And what you have to understand is this didn't happen overnight. These policies have been put in place over a period of years. We've laid the diplomatic groundwork over a period of years and so now you are seeing the Administration in a position to be able to reap some of the benefits of the diplomatic groundwork that has been laid over the course of time. I'll use the example of the six-party talks.

The six-party talk mechanism is something that was put in place several years ago and it took some time to develop, but that mechanism has proven to be very effective in starting us all down the pathway of the objective that is laid out for us in a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. That's something that all the six parties share.

You can look back at the 2005 agreement that was put in place which enshrines that objective. You can look at the implementing agreement that was signed just a few weeks ago which takes us down the first couple steps towards that goal. And you can look back in the wake of the Korean nuclear test that that group, that diplomatic grouping proved very effective in providing an immediate response and condemnation of the North Korean testing of a nuclear device. That, in turn, led to very quick action within the Security Council passing Resolution 1737.

So that's just one example of the careful multilateral diplomacy that this Administration has engaged in over a period of time. And now, you're seeing the United States, based on that, being in a position to try to move forward towards some of our objectives.

QUESTION: But by leaving the door open to talking to Iran and Syria -- you know, on the margins of this conference --


QUESTION: Are you answering critics at all that have said you need to engage these countries if you're going to get anywhere?

MR. MCCORMACK: First of all, this is a conference that the Iraqis have called. We're there in support of the Iraqis. Again, this is not a U.S.-Iran show or a U.S.-Syria show. This is about Iraq. And if we can participate in a conference, participate in a discussion that supports the Iraqi Government in trying to bring a more secure, stable environment in Iraq, then of course, we're going to take that opportunity. This is an idea that's been out there for some time. The Iraqis originally talked about it, I think, last fall.

So of course, we are going to participate in it. We have listened to a variety of different voices, as Secretary Rice has said, from the Baker-Hamilton group as well as others who have talked about the importance of a regional diplomatic engagement. Now the Iraqis and the Turkish Government have actually been engaged in this process for some time. The Turkish Government has hosted a number of these neighbors meetings.

The Iraqis decided that they were going to expand it out and invite the Permanent Five to the envoy-level meeting and then expand that group further to include the G-8 at a ministerial-level meeting. We think that's a good idea. So we look at this as an opportunity to support the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice has long said that -- you know, the Iranians and the Syrians don't need the United States to tell them --


QUESTION: -- how to act in Iraq. It sounds like -- you know, again, by leaving the door open, you might be changing that calculation a bit, that perhaps they do need a message from the U.S. to cut it out.

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Again, there are a lot of other countries that are going to be around the table at this meeting and it is going to be hosted by the Iraqis. We would hope that all the countries there, including Iran and Syria, take the opportunity to play a positive role in Iraq's future. And while we are there in the room, if we have the opportunity, of course, we are going to bring up issues related, for example, to EFPs and IEDs. That's an important issue for us, it's an important force protection issue for our forces in Iraq, and I think that people would be a little surprised if we didn't bring up that issue. Of course, we'll take the opportunity to do that.


QUESTION: Can you confirm that you plan to send a high-ranking U.S. official to Syria to talk about refugees, Iraqi refugees?

MR. MCCORMACK: All right, let me back up a little bit. UNHCR Chairman Gutierrez recently, within the past month or so, has taken a trip to the region to talk about humanitarian issues with a number of different governments in the region, including Syria. So what you're going to see is a follow-up to that visit. You're going to see a U.S. representative, a UNHCR representative travel to a number of states in the region, including Syria and Jordan, to talk about humanitarian issues related to refugees in those countries. There will be several stops. I think for sure there'll be one in Syria, for sure there'll be one in Jordan, maybe a couple of others.

The idea here is to follow up on that humanitarian mission and to talk directly with many of the NGOs that are on the ground doing the work for refugee processing and also helping to address the humanitarian needs of those refugees on the ground. I would expect, although the meetings haven't been set yet, that there would also be interactions with counterparts in the various governments, including the Syrian Government, including the Jordanian Government, to deliver the message that this is a humanitarian issue, it should be dealt with as such, and the United States is ready and prepared to do its part with respect to humanitarian assistance as well as with respect to taking in those -- some of those people who have been classified as refugees. But it would be a mission where you have a U.S. representative paired up with a UNHCR representative, so it's not a bilateral mission.

QUESTION: And who would it be and when?

MR. MCCORMACK: From our side, Ellen Sauerbrey, our Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugee and Migration Affairs. On the UNHCR side, I'm not sure. I'm not sure they've designated a specific individual yet. As for timing, I expect in the coming weeks. I don't have a specific date for you.



QUESTION: Iran has been challenging the international community, including the UN, IAEA and the United States, as far as their nuclear program is concerned. And they must have been watching also the situation of six-party talk or what happened with the agreement with North Korea. Do you think Iran, which was also saying that to wipe out Israel off the roadmap, do you think they are now have softened at all and then maybe ready to go the same path as North Korea? Are you ready to give them same -- what given to North Korea?

MR. MCCORMACK: As for what their intentions are, Goyal, I can't speak to that. I don't know. It's an opaque decision-making process in that regime. What you can see however is from published reports is that there is a conversation going on now in public about whether or not the regime is following the proper course with respect to their nuclear program. They've challenged the international community. The international community has responded in the form of a sanctions resolution. It is on the verge of preparing another sanctions resolution because Iran, the regime has continued to defy the international community. So that we believe has got the attention of the Iranian leadership. As for what lesson they will take from that and how that figures into their cost benefit analysis, I can't tell you. We will see. But the pathway to negotiation remains open. We've made that very clear.

There is the pathway to further isolation. It's the pathway in which they find themselves now or they can go down the pathway of engagement, negotiation, and engage in a negotiating forum where they can raise whatever issues they want to. We've made that very clear. We're ready. We are ready for that as are the other members of the P-5+1. Thus far, the regime has not taken us up on that offer. We would hope that they would. In the meantime, we are going to continue to work with our allies to pressure the regime to get it to change its behavior.

QUESTION: U.S. has no direct or indirect conversation in the last few weeks with any Iranian officials?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I can't speak to that. We have established communication channels via the Swiss channel as well as others, but I can't speak to that.

QUESTION: Do you think that pressure is working?



MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll see. We shall see. At the very least, you've seen a change in the public conversation that's going on in Iran and like I said, I can't tell you whether or not that's going to lead to a change in behavior, which is what we all hope. But certainly we believe it has gotten the attention of the Iranian regime.

QUESTION: Sean, you're saying they had some kind of readouts from the conference call? Will Nick be doing a briefing or can we expect anything like that later today?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think what you probably expect to see are some electrons. Nick doesn't have it in his schedule right now to do a briefing, but we'll try to share the information with you.


QUESTION: Sean, about you saying you can't speak to that when asked about whether there's been any contacts between the U.S. and Iran. I mean, bearing in mind your policy. I had thought you would be able to speak to that and give us (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: None that I'm aware of, none that I'm aware of.



QUESTION: North Korea actually. There's a report that a dozen or so North Korean refugees arrived in the U.S. yesterday. Do you know anything about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. Let me look into it.

QUESTION: Okay. And if I could --

MR. MCCORMACK: Batter up.

QUESTION: Would you just say whether the Administration still expects North Korea's uranium program to be on the disclosed list?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Back up a little bit for everybody's information and edification. There -- back in 2002 the North Korean Government admitted to a highly enriched uranium program when confronted with evidence. There's a now public sourced reference to the fact that the Pakistani nuclear entrepreneur, shall we say, A.Q. Khan sold the North Korean Government 20 centrifuges. So those are the facts that you know.

As for the state of that program and the precise nature of it at this very moment, I refer you to our colleagues in the intelligence community. They can fill you in. But what we would expect in any declaration about North Korea's nuclear program, as part of this denuclearization process, is a full accounting for all aspects of that program, which would include an HEU program.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR. MCCORMACK: You've had a --

QUESTION: Is there some sort of mechanism within the February 13th agreement to address human rights concerns with North Korea -- you know, bilateral forum?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we do have the U.S.-North Korea working group, which is set to be established on March 5th. March 5th and 6th, Chris Hill is going to have some meetings up in New York that we are going to host. He will have those meetings with his counterpart Kim Gye Gwan. And this is really -- you should look at this as an organizational meeting. It will -- they'll talk about the modalities of the working group. They'll talk about an agenda. And I would expect that at some point human rights certainly is going to be a topic of discussion.

QUESTION: But it's not necessarily on the agenda for this meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you. I'll talk to Chris and find out exactly what it is he expects to be on the agenda.


QUESTION: Sean, yesterday at the briefing you said -- talking about the PKK that we are doing what we can to help them resolve this matter without any use of force. PKK is listed on the State Department's terrorist organizations list. I wonder which terrorist organization or organizations on that list qualify to be dealt without force. Would you consider Hamas and Hezbollah -- after all, they all claim, including the PKK, that they all fight against occupation?

MR. MCCORMACK: The reference was to cross-border operations inside of Iraq. There's been a lot of discussion in Turkey about that. I don't think anybody wants to see that. I don't think the Turkish Government wants to see it. I don't think the Iraqi Government wants to see it. I don't think that we want to see that.

So the idea is how can you deal with this problem through cooperation, making it such that you don't have a situation where you have cross-border operations from Iraq into Turkey by the PKK. Nobody wants to see that. We do consider the PKK a terrorist organization. So when I was talking about use of force, that's what I was referring to.

Okay, Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes, Mr. McCormack. On the Agio Efstratios island again, in my taken question regarding the Greek island Agio Efstratios issue, I got yesterday the definitive answer from the Department of State: "The cancellation of the air force general of the exercise in the Aegean Sea is NATO issue. We support the NATO process. This is a matter for NATO to resolve." Do you agree?

MR. MCCORMACK: I do. I do agree.


MR. MCCORMACK: Why? Because it was -- because it's a NATO-related issue. And although it was -- you were referring to an American military officer, that American military officer is working for NATO. So it is within the context of those duties that that decision was taken. And you should, if you have any questions about this, you should talk to our colleagues at NATO headquarters about it.

QUESTION: Well, (inaudible) but my question is since the U.S. Government is signatory of the Lausanne Treaty, as I told you yesterday, what is your position vis--vis the Greek island of Agio Efstratios of the Aegean must be militarized or demilitarized?

MR. MCCORMACK: We fully support implementation of the Lausanne Treaty.

Yeah, Jonathan.

QUESTION: Can I just ask whether there's been any contact from the State Department to the Australians about David Hicks being -- terrorism charges filed against him?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. There's been quite a bit of discussion over the period of a couple of years, I think, about Mr. Hicks and his disposition. I know that there are a lot of news reports about his being charged imminently. That has not happened in public. That type of announcement would come out of the Department of Defense. So I would wait for you to ask for any announcements coming out of DOD with respect to any charges brought against Mr. Hicks. But yes, it has been a topic of conversation between the U.S. and Australia.

QUESTION: But I just wondered -- you know, has there -- have there been contacts today, can you tell us?

MR. MCCORMACK: Today? I don't know. I don't know if there have been contacts today, but there have been recent contacts.

QUESTION: I want to go back to North Korea for one minute.


QUESTION: The New York Times reported this morning, quoting a former senior, I think State Department official, saying that Secretary Rice was the one that wanted the intelligence community to soften the assessments on the enrichment program concerning the timing of how quickly it could be usable. So is there any -- can you shed any light on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think it will surprise you that I'm not going to have anything to say about any internal discussions that Secretary Rice may have had with her colleagues.

QUESTION: Do you refute the article? I mean, do you have anything to say about it?

MR. MCCORMACK: About that particular aspect of the article? I'm not going to have any comment, again, about any of the conversations she may have had internally with her colleagues.


QUESTION: On North Korea?


QUESTION: Sean, we know that A.Q. Khan sold nuclear (inaudible) to a number of countries, including Iran and North Korea.


QUESTION: Since U.S. still have no access to A.Q. Khan and do you still believe really that he acted on his own without the knowledge of the government there?

MR. MCCORMACK: President Musharraf has said that he was acting without the knowledge of the highest levels of the Pakistani Government, and we take him at his word.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the bomb threat against the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta?

MR. MCCORMACK: I looked into it. Thus far, I haven't been able to nail down any specific information for you. Of course, our standard procedure anytime there is a threat made against a U.S. embassy or a U.S. facility, then our security people take appropriate actions. But I'm going to keep looking into this for you.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: On Mexico. The Foreign Minister of Mexico told in a press conference that after the -- during the meeting with Secretary Rice, she present a special request to the State Department that during the building of the fence in the border, the Americans don't cross illegally the Mexican territories. So my question to you is, what was the response of the Secretary of State to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I was in the lunch with the Secretary and the Foreign Minister. This didn't come up. They did have a little one-on-one time, so it could very well have come up then. There is a land -- there is a border and boundary commission in which the U.S. and Mexico participate. Any time a question comes up about -- questions about that border and whether or not there are -- and whether there are allegations of people inappropriately crossing that border, that's the mechanism that is used to look into the issue and to resolve any disputes. We respect the sovereignty of Mexican territory without question and if there have been, in the past, any inadvertent excursions into Mexican territory, they were just that. They were inadvertent.

So I know that there is a specific question about the building of this fence and whether or not people have transited into Mexican territory. I think that people right now are looking into the issue, but we are going to work closely with Mexican officials to determine the facts about it. But again, to underline the main point here, is that we respect the sovereignty of Mexican territory.

QUESTION: Sri Lanka?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Sri Lanka.

QUESTION: Sean, the situation is pretty bad in Sri Lanka and a lot of the negotiations have (inaudible). Also, including U.S. and UN is also helping to track down the terrorists there, but a number of ambassadors, including the U.S. and British, were also injured there.


QUESTION: So how -- what are we doing now, in fact, that -- even though Tamil Tigers are also on the list of terrorist organizations in the State Department, so where are we heading now from here?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's a tough issue. It's been a tough issue for a couple decades and there is a -- there have been efforts in place led by the Norwegian Government to try to bring the two sides together, the Tamil Tigers and the government. And there have been various agreements at ceasefires and a peace process that have stopped and started over the years.

We're now in a period where we want to see the sides get back to a ceasefire and then engage in a real dialogue where they can resolve their differences across the negotiating table, as opposed to resort to the use of force. Our Ambassador was slightly injured in the attack along with a couple of other -- there were several other ambassadors traveling with him. He's fine. He actually -- later in the day when he got back to Colombo, he actually went out for a run, so that will tell you that he was okay, as well as somebody who's real attentive to their fitness as well. So our guy on the ground, Bob Blake, is doing a great job there. A lot of other people are concerned about this issue. And we're going to do what we can to participate in this group, this international effort to try and bring the two sides together.

QUESTION: You think the situation has come to the point that your message at the UN that international forces should be there?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't speak to that.


QUESTION: Yes. Military once again. The Department's response to my question whether American general wearing a NATO hat should be allowed to undermine treaties like Lausanne, to which the U.S. as signatory was (inaudible) and remains so, Mr. McCormack, confusing. So allow me to repeat in a different manner my question. (Inaudible) NATO generals wearing American uniforms, being assigned political/diplomatic tasks, which in the case of Agios Efstratios means recognition of international law and implementing the treaty that precedes NATO?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, there's -- you're making several leaps in logic there in terms of violations of treaties. We're all -- Greece, the United States -- all NATO. There are many other NATO members, including Turkey, that are signatories of the Treaty of Lausanne. As for the specific question about a U.S. military officer making a decision in his capacity as a NATO official, you're going to have to talk to NATO about that. I've told you that we are signatories of the Treaty of Lausanne and we support the implementation of that treaty.

QUESTION: New subject? And one from (inaudible). Has anybody in the Department of State raised the question how NATO -- how it can expand geographically and function before it cease being defense alliance? Of course, all we know is (inaudible) ago since been multiplying it. Do you agree?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to look into that question for you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:27 p.m.)

DPB # 36

Released on March 1, 2007

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