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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 5, 2007

INDEX:

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
USAID Scholarships and Grants / Universities and Students Vetted / Schools are Independent, Not Hamas Controlled
Congressional Letter on Reprogramming Funding for President Abbas's Security Force / Budgeting Process Transparent
JORDAN
Agenda for Secretary Rice's Meeting With King of Jordan
IRAN
Visit of Hamas Leader Khaled Meshal to Iran
Iran's Role in Region Not Positive
Update on UNSC Resolution
Reports of Rocket Launch / U.S. has concerns about Iran's missile program
NORTH KOREA
Progress of Six-Party Talk Working Group Meeting
Denuclearization Process on Korean Peninsula
U.S. Intends to Meet Obligations
De-listing of North Korea From State Sponsors of Terrorism List
SUDAN
USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios Agenda in Sudan
U.S. Encourages Sudan to Act on Acceptance of Hybrid AU-UN Force
Chinese Actions to Pressure Sudan
Lack of Infrastructure in Darfur a Problem
SAUDI ARABIA
Meeting between Saudi and Iranian Officials / U.S. encourages Partners to Pressure Iran to Change Behavior
IRAQ
Raid on Iraqi government facility in Basra / U.S. Concerned about Possible Torture
CHINA / TAIWAN
President Chen's Statements on Independence / U.S. Does Not Support Unilateral Changes to Status Quo
RUSSIA
Deaths of Journalists / U.S. Concerns about Freedom of the Press, Democracy


TRANSCRIPT:


 12:52 p.m. EDT

 MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. How are you? I don't have any opening statements, so we can get right into your questions. Whoever wants to start off.

QUESTION: Do you have more on the Palestinian aid question and the scholarship?

MR. MCCORMACK: I anticipated your question. They gave me a whole bunch of materials on this, so let me flip through here and get to the right spot because there's a lot in this Washington Times article and let me just start off with a couple baseline principles and then we can get into more detailed questions.

First of all, USAID requires of all of its contractors and subcontractors to go through a vetting -- a careful vetting process. And this involves working with our Consulate in Jerusalem. It involves working with our Embassy in Tel Aviv. It involves going through U.S. Government -- various U.S. Government databases to ensure that any of the recipients of U.S. Government monies are not affiliated with terrorist organizations or so that that money does not end up in the hands of terrorists or terrorist organizations.

All the -- both the universities mentioned in the article, the Islamic University of Gaza and Al-Quds University, my understanding is that these are independent universities and it would be incorrect to characterize them as Hamas-controlled. They both have passed U.S. Government vetting anti-terrorism procedures, so the vetting procedures to which I was just referring. As I mentioned, any scholarship recipients are again vetted and the monies -- once they're vetted, if they qualify, then the monies for any tuition are deposited in a separate account. That account is controlled so that that money is used only for educational purposes, meaning their tuition.

It is -- oh, it was also mentioned in there that there was a project, a computer -- basically a computer lab at the Islamic University of Gaza, and that does not receive any U.S. Government funding. That is, in fact, part of a program of information technology centers of excellence that is privately funded, U.S. corporation privately funded. There are three of these that are already constructed -- one at Al-Quds University, one at the Arab American University in Jenin, one at the Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron -- and there are a couple others under construction right now -- Birzeit University, Islamic University in Gaza which is apparently where they just broke ground.

So in terms of USAID, I talked to the folks over there and I'm conveying to you the information that was provided to me. They are confident that the organizations, including the NGO cited, ANERA, as well as the individuals who are recipients of USAID funding, have passed all U.S. Government anti-terrorism vetting procedures. The computer lab cited in the article is, in fact, not being funded by the U.S. Government; it is a private endeavor. And I think that that covers what I have been able to uncover with an opening. I'll be happy to --

QUESTION: What about the figures? 

MR. MCCORMACK: What's that? 

QUESTION: The figures. 

MR. MCCORMACK: The figures? 

QUESTION: The money. The amount of money.

MR. MCCORMACK: The amount of money --  

QUESTION: Is that correct? 

MR. MCCORMACK: -- provided to --  

QUESTION: Was there something that was correct in the story?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, apparently, in terms of any -- you know, and again, you always get into dangerous territory when you start talking about money. But apparently, to Al-Quds University the scholarships totaled about $2.2 million and then there were also some in-kind grants -- computers, reference resources, subscriptions, that sort of thing. And then for the Islamic University of Gaza, we're looking at about 93,000 in scholarships and then about roughly 12,000 in in-kind assistance and then other research grants totaling about $30,000.

QUESTION: That's over what time frame?

MR. MCCORMACK: This was -- again, I think we're looking at -- I'll have to look into that for you, Matt. I honestly don't -- I don't have that here.

QUESTION: And just one last thing on this, and that is when you say that the scholarship recipients are vetted and then the money that they get for the scholarships are deposited into an account to make --

MR. MCCORMACK: A separate bank account, right.

QUESTION: Right --  

MR. MCCORMACK: Which is, again, controlled and audited. I don't have the bank --

QUESTION: No, no, but -- so it's like in escrow or something?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's a controlled account so they -- you know, and again, I don't have the details. If you're really interested in these details, we can get somebody who does this on a daily basis for you.

QUESTION: No, no --  

MR. MCCORMACK: But here's the other thing. Actually, this is an important point that was left out. Once people go through these vetting procedures, individuals as well as -- and this applies more to organizations -- go through the vetting procedures. There are follow-up audits that are conducted as well. So there are multiple, from USAID's point of view, there are multiple levels through which we can assure ourselves that these monies are not going to terrorists or terrorist organizations. 

QUESTION: I guess that's just control -- when you say the account is controlled, controlled by who? Controlled by the student, controlled by the university, controlled by USAID? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, I'm happy to have somebody who delves into this sort of minutia talk to you offline after the briefing and be able to brief -- 

QUESTION: Okay. I'm not sure it's minutia. Is it? 

MR. MCCORMACK: I would characterize it as that, yes. 

QUESTION: That's interesting. 

QUESTION: Can we stay on the Israeli-Palestinian issue? Congressman Lantos and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have put out a letter in which they call on the Secretary to essentially drop the $86 million in aid for President Abbas' security forces. The letter's dated March 1st, but I think it's just made public. There was a lot of skepticism when she testified to the committee about this, but I don't think you had the chairman and the ranking member then actually telling you to just stop it. What's your reaction to this? Is the Administration considering abandoning this effort or at least suspending it pending clarification of the shape of the national unity government? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, we just received the letter today. Second of all, I think what it does is it asks a series of questions and these are questions that the Secretary herself would want answered to ensure that any funding does not end up in the hands of Hamas or a Hamas-led government. The intention here is to assist with the training in non-lethal equipment assistance to those forces who might be under the control of President Abbas. And with the eventuality of a national unity government, which is Hamas led, we want to ensure that none of those funds would end up in the hands of that Hamas-led government. So we're going to take a look at -- and we are looking at right now -- the totality of the $86 million request. And we are studying it at the moment. We do not yet have a national unity government. And I would expect that in the not-too-distant future, we would probably have an answer in response to the letter. 

QUESTION: Is it fair to say, just so we don't conflate your response to the letter and your sending a letter with your studying the overall $86 million, that you are essentially suspending that for the time being? You're not looking to actually get that money? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's a request. It's a new -- it's a reprogramming request, so you can't move forward with, in fact, without the consent of the Congress. So I don't -- I wouldn't necessarily -- I wouldn't characterize it as suspending it. We are asking ourselves some questions as the Congress has asked us to look into some questions as well. So they are asking us to do, in essence, what we are doing ourselves. 

QUESTION: But in other words, you're not going to like -- I mean, I realize that you have to ask Congress to be able to reprogram the money -- 

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. 

QUESTION: -- but, in other words, you're not telling them no, despite your questions, we still want you to reprogram the money. You're saying we're going -- we need to answer these questions ourselves. 

MR. MCCORMACK: The bottom line is we intend -- our intention is to move forward with the program. Now, whether or not that includes the full $86 million will depend upon the answers to the questions that we have and obviously the answers to the questions that the Congress has. 

QUESTION: So basically rethinking it in light of their questions -- 

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I wouldn't say we're -- 

QUESTION: -- and your own? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're not rethinking in response to the letter. We are already, as a result of the announcement of the intention to form a national unity government, we wanted to step back and ask ourselves those questions. So I wouldn't say that we're rethinking it or suspending it in response to the letter. We're following through on what the Secretary said she was going to be doing a couple of weeks ago when she said to these very appropriators -- well, not the appropriators, these committee members that she was going to make sure that she could assure herself that none of these funds were going to end up in the hands of Hamas or a Hamas-led government. 

Yes. 

QUESTION: Are you looking at other ways then of supporting President Abbas and his security forces? Is there another way that you can do this? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of what we're doing, that's transparent and you can see that in this food program and in requests. And all of our other funding goes through a transparent budgeting process. We are, of course, subject to provide that information up to the Hill, so what we are doing is completely transparent. 

There are other things that other countries can do and they do work with the Palestinians on other aspects of the security forces and we think that's important. The Egyptians, in the past, have worked with the Palestinian security forces to help them -- help train them and make them more professional. There are also a variety of other equipment needs that the Palestinians have, but that would be done separately between the Palestinians and any other states that they may have a relationship with. 

QUESTION: So because of your constraints on Capitol Hill in getting this money, are you now looking to the Europeans and others to fill that gap? 

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. And again, I would -- walking back from this idea of constraints imposed by Capitol Hill, what they have done is ask this series of questions. And we, of course, want to provide the answers to those questions. Many of the questions are very similar to the ones that we are asking ourselves. So this letter puts on record many of the questions that the committee had for Secretary Rice when she was up there a couple of weeks ago, but suffice it to say, we are already asking ourselves many of these questions prior to the arrival of this letter. 

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Sue's question, I mean, you wouldn't sort of seek to subvert the will of Congress by trying to get other people to give you this money if you decide you can't get it through Congress? 

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we're not trying to fill any other gaps. Now there are other aspects to training the Palestinian security forces or equipping the Palestinian security forces that we wouldn't consider or we wouldn't be doing because of our laws and regulations. Others can do that and they're -- and they have their own freestanding relationships with the Palestinians, so they are free, of course, to do that.  

Yeah. 

QUESTION: Staying on the Middle East if we could, and please correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't today the day when the King of Jordan is meeting with Secretary Rice? And if that is correct, can you give us some idea of -- segueing from that subject into what they're going to be talking about and what Ms. Rice expects to be the conclusion and the result from this meeting? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's another in a series of consultations that she's having with her counterparts and other leaders from the region. I would expect that they talk about bilateral issues of concern, both to Jordan and the United States; for example, Iraqi refugees. I know that's at the top of the Jordanian list. I know they have a lot of concerns about the pressures on the support network within Jordan and the ability of the NGOs working in Jordan to meet those humanitarian needs and -- as well as to start that process of looking at these individuals to see if they qualify for refugee status. So that's one issue, certainly. 

We have a variety of other issues in the bilateral relationship. I would expect that they also talk about the situation in the region writ large, talk about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, talk about Secretary Rice's efforts to energize a process by which the Palestinians and the Israelis can come together to resolve the many differences that we all know exist between them. 

QUESTION: Is that what you expect? 

MR. MCCORMACK: As I said, this is a consultation. This isn't a meeting where somebody comes out with a written agreement or a product saying, "Oh, we solved it." This is part of a process, part of a consultative process. 

Yeah, anything else on Israeli-Palestinian, Middle East? 

QUESTION: Will they be talking about the Iraq conference that's coming up on the 10th this weekend? Is there any prep work being done for that between Rice and Abdullah? 

MR. MCCORMACK: That -- I'm sure that she will talk about it to encourage full Jordanian participation at the conference, but I don't believe that that is something that is at the top of either agenda. 

Yeah, Sylvie. 

QUESTION: Also on Middle East, do you have any comment on the visit of the Hamas political leader, Khaled Meshal, to Iran? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, not surprisingly, we don't have a lot of sources of information, certainly not that I can share with you, beyond press reports concerning such a meeting, given our lack of relationship either with Hamas or Iran. So I can't provide you a lot of insight to it. I don't know if Mr. Haniya is going to try to make his way back into Gaza with a suitcase full of cash or not. We do know that Iran has not played a positive role either in the Palestinian areas or in Lebanon or a variety of other places throughout the Middle East. Beyond that, I can't really offer any comment. 

QUESTION: Do you think it could be -- it could lead to a breakthrough since Meshal has been the most powerful person in Hamas recently and Iran has been -- has said that they are willing to participate in the East -- Middle East conference about Iraq, so maybe they are trying to soften vis-à-vis their position? Do you think there is hope on that? 

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I have no insight to that whatsoever. And I talked to -- earlier you mentioned -- this was Khaled Meshal. I mentioned Haniya going back into Gaza, so two separate incidents.

QUESTION: Sarah Baker just filling in for ABC News today. But I had a question on the education front. Do you have any numbers -- are you familiar with with how many Iraqi students are admitted into the United States for study? 

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I'm happy to look into it for you, though. 

QUESTION: Great. 

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, sir.  

QUESTION: How is the U.S. planning to verify North Korea's commitment to any agreement given that normalization talks begin today? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all -- a lot of different issues in that. First of all, this is a working group meeting and Chris will begin a discussion about a number of different matters, so I wouldn't characterize them as normalization talks. I think that he will talk to them about how the process might proceed regarding normalization. He will talk to them how the -- how a process might proceed about looking at North Korea's listing on the state sponsors of terrorism list. And he also mentioned looking at how North Korea might not be subject to the Trading with the Enemy Act.  

Now, I would caution you that this is a first meeting and that -- this is a first meeting and that this is more about setting the norms of how this working group will proceed and some of the agenda items certainly from our side as well as the North Korean side that they might consider in this working group. 

Second of all, the process of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula obviously is one that's going to have to proceed step by step. It is going to have to be a process by which good faith actions are met in turn by good faith actions. We're going to see a first test of that principle in the coming weeks as the 30-day and the 60-day mark from February 13 comes upon us. The various members of the six-party talks have certain responsibilities under that agreement. We'll see how the North Korean side lives up to its responsibilities. We, of course, intend to abide by our commitments under that agreement. And you make an assessment based on performance, and based on performance you either decide to proceed forward or not. And this is going to be a judgment made by the six parties. 

As for what specific verification regime might come about in order to ensure the international system that North Korea has, in fact, denuclearized the Korean Peninsula and that it has, in fact, come clean about all of its nuclear programs, that is going to be a subject of discussion and I suspect intense negotiation among the members of the six-party talks. But this is a -- again, this is going to be a step-by-step process. We already know the end point. That's been outlined in the September 2005 agreement. What you're seeing now are a series of implementing agreements. We have the first one on the table now and this is going to be an initial test to see whether or not North Korea has, in fact, made that strategic decision to denuclearize. There are going to be more tests along the way for all the members of the six-party talks to test their willingness to commit to achieve the objective that is -- that they have all outlined.  

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that it's likely to take years, if ever, before you get to normalization with a country with which you've had such a long and --  

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I would expect that it is -- it will take -- it would take some time in order for that process to be completed. Again, it would be a matter of building up trust. It would be a matter of performance. And today is just an initial discussion on that process as well as the number of other processes that might be underway as a result of implementing all of these -- implementing the 2005 agreement. 

Underlying all of this, North Korea can realize a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world. The pathway is open to them. We see that. This implementing agreement is the first step along that pathway. There is also another pathway of isolation if they do not perform and live up to their responsibilities under these agreements.  

QUESTION: Just one other sort of technical question. Will the U.S. Government meet all of its obligations under the February 13th agreement, both under the 30-day and the 60-day, even if North Korea fails to? In other words, you guys are going to go forward in good faith and do what you've said you will do, for example holding the first working group on the normalization of relations and so on; you'll do everything you said you would do regardless of whether they do it? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, within 30 days there are certain marks that they have to meet and the six parties have certain things that they have to do, and we will prepare ourselves to meet all of those obligations both within the 30-day mark and the 60-day mark. The 60-day mark, in part, depends on how well everybody does on the 30-day mark. But we intend to meet all of our commitments. 

Now, of course, if there's a failure to meet commitments on the North Korean side, of course you have to take a look at what it is that you are obliged to do and whether or not it is the judgment of the other five parties that they have to meet that commitment in full if there's been a default on the North Korean side.  

QUESTION: Did you -- just a last one on this real quickly. Did you get an answer to my question about whether you have actually formally begun the process on taking them off -- of considering whether to take them off the state sponsors of terrorism list? 

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that bureaucratically there is a -- there was an initial discussion in preparation for Chris' meeting today and tomorrow in the North Korean working group, only to understand what it is -- what is involved in the process of potentially de-listing North Korea from the state sponsor of terrorism list. I don't think it's gone any further than that at this point. 

QUESTION: That was an interagency thing where you just sat down with all the players that have to look at this and --  

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know how formal this was. I think it was probably more of an informal gathering.  

Sylvie. 

QUESTION: Does it mean that during this working group on normalization you won't -- they won't speak at all about --  

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, let me correct -- I wouldn't call it a working group on normalization. So proceed. 

QUESTION: Okay. That's the --  

QUESTION: But that's the title. It's the working group on normalization of DPRK-U.S. relations. 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are other issues that are going to be considered under the rubric of that working group.  

QUESTION: Which are? 

MR. MCCORMACK: I just talked about them. We talked about the state sponsor of terrorism list, talked about the Trading with the Enemy Act. So there are a number of other issues there. 

QUESTION: Okay. And will -- do they -- will they speak about the implementation of the nuclear agreement in itself, for an example, the freeze of the Yongbyon? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Yongbyon. 

QUESTION: Yongbyon. 

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure they will. I'm sure they'll talk about it, yeah.  

Mr. Lee.

QUESTION: Yes, back just to -- another country but on the same isolation track and performance track. 

MR. MCCORMACK: Let's make sure everybody -- we have all the North Korea questions answered, then we'll -- you have dibs on the first question after that. Anything else on North Korea? Yeah. 

QUESTION: No, on Taiwan. 

MR. MCCORMACK: No? Okay. Go ahead. 

QUESTION: Has anything happened in the last four hours on the Iran resolution?  

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- I can't tell you. I'm sure that there's been some activity. I'm not sure that I can detail it for you from the podium. I'm sure that people were either thinking about it or writing about it or even making telephone calls and meeting about it, but I can't tell you exactly what those things are.  

Michel. 

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on Under Secretary Burns' meetings in New York today? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me? 

QUESTION: Nick Burns is in New York today. He has a meeting with General Secretary Ban. 

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. 

QUESTION: Do you have any --  

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no updates for you. 

QUESTION: Sorry, one more on Iran. And that was the question that I asked you this morning about the rocket launch. Was there anything --  

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I looked into it and really nothing new. There were reports of a possible sounding rockets launch -- launches or launch that might have been sub-orbital. I can't provide you any information on that because that gets into intelligence sources so, you know, I can't provide any clarity about it. Suffice it to say we do have outstanding concerns about Iran's missile program and very -- and we're very much concerned about the possible nexus between that program and their nuclear weapons program.  

QUESTION: Separate issue on Sudan. Do you have any update on Andrew Natios' travel, who's seen, what he's achieved, not achieved? 

MR. MCCORMACK: I do. I do. He has not had a meeting with President Bashir. That is scheduled for this coming Wednesday. He has met with various other Sudanese officials, including some presidential advisors. He has been traveling -- is currently traveling in Darfur and Southern Sudan.  

Tom, he's in Juba right now? 

QUESTION: He's not in Darfur?  

MR. MCCORMACK: He's not in -- yeah, he's in Juba right now. But the plan was that he would be -- I think he's already traveled to Darfur -- in Juba today, returns for meetings with President Bashir on Wednesday. At this point, I'm -- you know, we're in the middle of the trip. I don't really have anything that I could announce with respect to changes in the Sudanese position. We can encourage them to act on their acceptance of the hybrid AU-UN force.  

There are actions that they need to take, there are actions that the UN and DPKO need to take as well, so we'll try to have a more full readout of his trip as he gets closer to the end of his stay in Sudan. 

QUESTION: So will Andrew Natsios be presenting Plan B to the Sudanese and providing them more details on that, on sanctions or no-fly zones or anything else? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he will, of course, focus on the importance of getting in this AU-UN hybrid force. I think the Sudanese Government understands full well that there -- it is well past due, their acting on their agreement to allow in this AU-UN force and that there are, of course, other diplomatic levers at the disposal of the international system.  

I think they got a taste of that when the Chinese Government decided that it was going to take Sudan off of its top tier of states that would receive trade support in terms of financing trade between the two countries, so an important step with some practical implications for the Sudanese Government and I think that it also sends a very strong signal to the Sudanese Government that the Chinese Government wants to see this AU-UN hybrid force get into Darfur. 

QUESTION: Yes, but it's now March and there still has been very little done in terms of U.S. pressure. 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well -- 

QUESTION: And the Chinese have agreed to all kinds of fabulous business dealings, the President was there, so they may have come up with this one issue, but -- 

MR. MCCORMACK: All right, well -- but as I said about President Hu's visit, I think that the actions at the time send a mixed signal to Sudan, but this is after President Hu's visit. They have taken another step that I think is worth noting. And in terms of U.S. pressure, it is a constant, it is something that we work on every single day, whether you have Andrew Natsios going to Sudan or Andrew Natsios or Jendayi Frazier in contact with others who might bring pressure on the Sudanese regime to get it to change its behavior. It's something that we work on every single day. 

And would we have liked to have seen more progress by now? Absolutely; I don't dispute that. Absolutely, we want to see more progress. It is a tragedy, what is happening in Darfur. That is why we think it is so important for the international system to use whatever levers are at its disposal to get the Sudanese Government to change its behavior and act to allow that AU-UN force in.  

Now the international system has some responsibilities itself in terms of providing the forces necessary to fill out that AU-UN force and also for the UN to speed up its timeline and to devote the focus, energy, and resources necessary to move that process forward on a timeline that is accelerated beyond what is the norm, because we think it is absolutely essential that happen. 

QUESTION: How much of the problem is attributable to obstructionism by Bashir and how much attributable to the UN's lack of an infrastructure in Darfur into which these peacekeepers can deploy? 

MR. MCCORMACK: There are problems of infrastructure on the ground, getting the camp set up for the phase one folks, for the phase two folks, as well as looking down the road for the wider force. Yeah, that's a problem, but you need -- the point is, George, you need to look at this as this is not business as usual. This is not getting out your playbook and turning to page 3 and saying, "Oh, well, this is the timeline on which this happens." This is too important and it is too great a tragedy to take a look at the playbook, toss it aside, and say, "We need to move faster." And it's also important for the international community to do the same. I don't think anybody's talking about U.S. troops in this regard.  

And the Sudanese as well have a real role to play in this. What I think are the difficulties -- to put a polite term on it -- that the Sudanese regime has thrown up to the deployment of this force are well documented and they need to cease any acts that might even be perceived as obstructionism in moving this process forward. 

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do I get another one? Great.  

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, as many as you like. We have plenty of time here. 

QUESTION: Thank you, you're a gentleman and a scholar. Thank you so much. 

MR. MCCORMACK: My schedule this afternoon is free. 

QUESTION: The President of Iran just met with the top Saudi officials, went to Saudi Arabia, and here you have the two oil giants in the world meeting. And as I recall, the President of Iran said something to the effect he wants to talk -- he wanted to talk about the United States, he said, allegedly trying to split the Shia and the Sunni. And I think he wanted to talk about bridging that gap. What's the State Department think about this meeting between the President of Iran and the top Saudi officials? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, the Saudis live in a tight space in the Persian Gulf with the Iranians. That isn't going to change, so it is up to them how they interact with the Iranians. I think the Saudi Government has a healthy appreciation for the threat posed by violent extremism emanating from the regime in Tehran. And we encourage the Saudi Government to send a message to the Iranian regime in the form of President Ahmadi-Nejad that Iranian behavior across a spectrum of different issues is unacceptable.  

We haven't -- I don't think we've had a detailed conversation with representatives from the Saudi Government to understand how the meeting went or what exactly came out of it. I've seen a lot of conflicting press reports about it, some of which involve the Iranians contradicting what the Saudi Government said about the meeting. So in terms of providing a detailed reaction, I can't because we don't have an understanding of the dynamics in the meeting and exactly what was discussed.  

We would hope that coming out of the meeting the Iranian regime would change its behavior across a wide variety of issues; haven't seen any particular indication of that at this point. But of course we will be -- we remain hopeful of that. In the meantime, we are going to continue working with members in the international system, our friends and allies, to apply the necessary diplomatic leverage and pressure to Iran to get it to change its behavior. 

Yes. 

QUESTION: Would you have any comment on the parliamentary elections in Abkhazia. 

MR. MCCORMACK: Parliamentary -- 

QUESTION: Yeah. 

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to look into that one. 

QUESTION: Yeah. Sorry, I didn't ask you this morning. 

MR. CASEY: We have something we can post on that. 

MR. MCCORMACK: We have something we'll be posting for you later on that. 

Yes, Nina. 

QUESTION: Iraq, please. It's a reaction to a reaction to a reaction, I'm afraid, specifically this British raid in Basra, al-Maliki's comments.  

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

 

QUESTION: He was calling it a responsible, an illegal act. He seems more concerned about the fact that the raid occurred than there were apparent victims of torture there. Can you respond to this? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, our folks on the ground in Baghdad probably have a better, more full understanding of the circumstances surrounding this raid, so I can't tell you what level of authorization these Iraqi Government forces as well as these British forces had in entering this particular facility. So there'll be an investigation, I'm sure. If, in fact, there were individuals being held in that Iraqi Government facility who were being detained outside of Iraqi law or were in any way mistreated or tortured, that would be a source of great concern to us, of course.  

So let's see if we can determine a better set of facts concerning (a) the conditions surrounding the raid and (b) what exactly was found in there. There's a process question here that I think is more one for the Iraqis to take a look at, and that is what were the authorization procedures that precipitated this raid. 

The second issue is a substantive issue of were there individuals being held in these facilities outside of Iraqi law and who were being mistreated or tortured in any way. That's a real concern for us. 

QUESTION: Would this be a fully Iraqi-led investigation or would the U.S. take part in this or -- 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, inasmuch -- as far as I can determine, our forces weren't involved in the raid. So on the process question, I think that's one more for the Iraqis and the UK authorities to sort out if, in fact, they were part of the raid or part of the change of command that authorized the raid. 

Yeah.

QUESTION: Taiwan. We had asked this morning if you -- 

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, yes. Here we are. And the question is? 

QUESTION: What are your comments on the latest remarks by President Chen of Taiwan regarding the possibility of his seeking independence for Taiwan and even changing the name of Taiwan? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. As is well established, the United States does not support independence for Taiwan. President Bush has repeatedly underscored his opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo by either Taipei or Beijing because these threaten regional peace and stability, U.S. national interest and Taiwan's own welfare. President Chen has repeatedly pledged that he would not alter the guarantees in his 2000 inaugural address not to declare independence, change the national title, push for inclusion of sovereignty themes in the constitution, or promote a referendum to change the status quo in regards to the questions of independence and unification. President Chen has also reaffirmed his 2004 inaugural pledge to exclude sovereignty themes from the process of constitutional reform, which would focus exclusively on good governance and Taiwan's economic competitiveness. 

President Chen's fulfillment of his commitments is a test of leadership, dependability and statesmanship and of his ability to protect Taiwan's interests, its relations with others, and to maintain peace and stability in the Strait. Rhetoric that could raise doubts about these commitments is unhelpful. 

Yes, follow-up questions? 

QUESTION: Since President Chen is outgoing president, his term only have one year left, so do you expect those commitments -- the four no's -- continue to be kept by other party leaders in Taiwan -- I mean, who's going to -- may be the next president? 

MR. MCCORMACK: We would expect that the -- inasmuch as these commitments flow from our policy requirements and our policy statements that they would continue to be abided by. 

QUESTION: Sean? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. 

QUESTION: Does that mean that the State Department thinks that Taiwanese President's pro-independence rhetoric unhelpful? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think I used the words "rhetoric that could raise doubts about these commitments," which again refers to our opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo. And any rhetoric that might, in any way, contravene that, I called those unhelpful.

QUESTION: Do you believe that could happen? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Yes, inasmuch as those comments contradicted any of these -- any of these --

QUESTION: Have you guys come out to decide that, in fact, that's what he was doing and that's -- and then that -- so, in other words, can you make the link in one sentence saying that President Chen's comments are unhelpful or can you not say that? 

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have anything to add to the statement that I have read. 

QUESTION: Sean, would you --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. 

QUESTION: Sorry. Will you or have you asked Chen to clarify what he said officially?

MR. MCCORMACK: We would expect that inasmuch as any comments deviated from these commitments that he would make it clear that he was -- he continued to adhere to the previous commitments.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sean, the State Department regularly criticizes some of the comments that Chen Shui-bian makes, but a lot of people in Taiwan think that the real danger to the status quo is China's military buildup with its thousand missiles aimed at Taiwan and its military buildup aimed at Taiwan. I mean, do you agree with any that, in fact, the greater danger comes from Taiwan's military activities and that's really the danger to the status quo? 

MR. MCCORMACK: We have spoken to the Chinese military buildup separately. Our position on that is well known; it's unchanged and quite clear. We believe that any actions that would destabilize the status quo or threaten that status quo are not helpful and we would ask parties to refrain from such activities. 

Yes. 

QUESTION: (Inaudible) is coming to visit Washington. I wonder do you have his agenda? Would Taiwan be on the -- you know, the agenda to talk about? 

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I'm sure that it would -- it will come up from the Chinese side, however. 

QUESTION: Do you know if Secretary Negroponte raised with the Chinese U.S. concerns about the military buildup China is undertaking vis-à-vis the Taiwan question? 

MR. MCCORMACK: I've not spoken with him so I don't know if he, in fact, raised them. I know that he had some remarks to the press in which he talked about -- he was asked about this and he gave our position on it.

 Joel.

QUESTION: Sean, there's some troubling developments concerning Russia ever since this assassination in London. There's a gentleman up in suburban Maryland that was involved in a shooting at his home -- Joyal. 

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. 

QUESTION: And also there's a journalist that apparently took a fifth-story plunge off a building in Moscow, also the second or third journalist in as many months that's died an unprecedented death. Do you have any comments concerning that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not going to try to draw any links among all those various incidents. As for the individual who was murdered in the United States, local law enforcement, I'm sure, is going to investigate that thoroughly.

Look, as for our concerns about freedom of the press, freedom of expression in Russia, those are well known. We have some -- we have concerns about those issues. We raise those with the Russian Government. It is an important and an essential component of any democracy: freedom of expression, freedom of the press.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Taiwan for a second to follow up on my question? Does the United States -- is the United States concerned, is the State Department concerned that the Russian military buildup is, in fact, threatening or violating the status quo in the Straits?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have anything to add to what I have said on the matter.

Okay. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)

DPB #38

 




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