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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 8, 2007


P5+1 Conference Call
Discussions with Russians, Others / Resolution As Soon As Possible
Query on Former Iranian Official
Iranian Support for EFP Networks
King Abdullah's Remarks to Congress / Advocate and Force for Peace
U.S. Absence from U.N. Human Rights Council / Not Meeting Mandate
Singular Focus on Issues Related to Israel / Not Burma, China, DPRK
Potential Ministerial Meeting
Envoys-Level Meeting in Baghdad Over the Weekend / Preparatory
U.S. Goals for Weekend Meeting / Opportunity for Neighbors to Express Support
Shared Responsibility of Iraq's Neighbors to Help Stabilize Iraq
Baghdad Security Plan / General Petraeus
Security for Meeting
Possible Interaction Between U.S., Iran/Syria / Sideshow
Reliability of Population Statistics
Upcoming Parliamentary Elections / One Party State
Assistant Secretary Ellen Sauerbrey's Travel / Jordan / Egypt
Contacts Between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert
Number of Differences / Moving Forward
Possible Travel by the Secretary to the Region
Lantos Criticism / Aid to Islamic University of Gaza
Meeting Between Japan, DPRK / February 13 Agreement
U.S. Talks with North Korea / Normalization / Focus on Denuclearization
Reported Poisoning of Amcits / U.S. Awaiting Progress on Investigation
China's Military Buildup / Source of Concern
Recent Anti-Satellite Test / Lack of Transparency
Possible Indian Concerns About China's Military Buildup


12:34 p.m. EST 

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. 

QUESTION: Good afternoon.  

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, Lambros. How are you doing?  


MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any opening statements, so we can get right into all your questions. Who wants to start?  

Sylvie, go ahead.  

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the P-5+1 conference call today?  

MR. MCCORMACK: Nick Burns had a conference call with his P-5+1 counterparts. He also spoke later on with some of his counterparts individually. So we are working this on two tracks: we are working at their political directors level; we are working it at the perm rep level up in New York. We are chipping away at any remaining differences that might exist among the P-5+1 so that we can get a draft resolution and then circulate it to the rest of the Council. Everybody is committed to moving forward -- it is just a matter of time, working out the details and the language -- but everybody is committed to getting a second resolution in the -- as soon as we possibly can.




QUESTION: Did we -- did you speak individually to the Russians, for example, and there is still some differences -- 

MR. MCCORMACK: We spoke with the Russians and the Chinese. Look, I want to dispel this notion that is out there and it is kind of bouncing around; maybe it is an echo of past discussions. But certainly in this round, we are working very cooperatively with the Russian Government, working very well with them. This began with Secretary Rice's meetings with Foreign Minister Lavrov in which they first discussed this idea of the second resolution and what it might look like, and it has extended up to the phone call today. So we're working very well with the Russians.  

Other members of the P-5+1 have some questions. You're starting to get into in some of the elements of a resolution where you have different countries that have different equities. And we're going to be working through the specific substantive as well as language fixes with them. But make no mistake, we are going to get a resolution and we're working on getting one as soon as we can.

QUESTION: Do you have any timeline for that resolution next week?  

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah --  

QUESTION: Some people are saying it might be April.  

MR. MCCORMACK: It might be -- 

QUESTION: April, maybe? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Where are we -- April or March?  

QUESTION: We're in March now.  

MR. MCCORMACK: We're in March? I'm just trying to figure out where we are in March.  

QUESTION: Like a month away.  

MR. MCCORMACK: March -- 

QUESTION: The Day of Women.  

MR. MCCORMACK: That's right. International Women's Day. Thanks very much. Look, I'm not going to put timelines on it. We want one as soon as we can. We're working very well and constructively with all the members of the P-5+1.  



QUESTION: Surely you can give us some notion of the snags because, I mean, a week ago you were saying this is going more quickly than the last time and that we're expecting something. You know, I mean, it's not sticking to the kind of the pace that you kind of laid out at the end of last week now. What's --


MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's inevitable. It's inevitable in any multilateral negotiation. We are still working more quickly than we were last time around. That was an extended negotiation. I would hope that this effort move forward more quickly than it did last time. The last time around, we were working on the first resolution of its kind out of the gate on this particular topic. This resolution is incremental in its nature, but nonetheless important. So I would expect that we're going to be able to move through these issues more quickly than we did last time.


Yes, Nicholas.


QUESTION: On Iran, sort of. I know we've been asking for -- this is the third time, I think, about this ex-deputy defense minister or general. I assume that you don’t have anything today, as you did --


MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. That's right.


QUESTION: I'm just wondering is there a point at which you might have something because I know that asylum cases you don't talk about.




QUESTION: If he was kidnapped, I assume that you're not going to even want to think about talking about. But seriously, is there any point in which we should --


MR. MCCORMACK: You can keep asking. You can keep asking it. I'm going to have the same answer for you unless something qualitatively changes in my ability to give you an answer. I don't have any information on those news stories.


QUESTION: Or you can call me and leak it. (Laughter.) Okay, thanks.


MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Okay. All right.


QUESTION: The problem is now it's on the front page of the newspaper, so it's starting to be rather public. Can you at least deny these --


MR. MCCORMACK: I have no information on this news story for you.




QUESTION: Sir, two quick questions. One, last night I hope you were watching King Abdullah of Jordan at the Joint Session of the United States Congress.




QUESTION: He spoke -- he gave a very nice, wonderful speech, but his speech was really encouraging younger Arab and Muslim youths as far as terrorism is concerned because he never condemned as far as terrorism is concerned by those youths in his region as far as Palestine and Israeli conflict was concerned. What do you think about his speech?


MR. MCCORMACK: I think King Abdullah is an advocate and a force for peace in the region. He's a good friend and ally.


QUESTION: And may I have one more on the UN, please?




QUESTION: Any reason, Sean, why again for the second year the United States is absent from the United Nations Security -- Human Rights Security Council?


MR. MCCORMACK: I went into an explanation of that back on Tuesday. Very basically, we don't believe that as it is currently constituted and given its -- given the mandate, that it is not a credible institution in meeting the mandate that has been set out for it. We're disappointed by that. We're going to remain observers to the Human Rights Council. But we have chosen not to run. That doesn't mean there's any diminishment in the United States advocacy and promotion of human rights around the world. We're going to work within the UN system, within the Security Council, within the General Assembly as well as outside the UN system, to be forceful advocates for human rights around the world. It's disappointing that the Human Rights Council just hasn't measured up to date.


QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Secretary Rice just the other day issued or released the report on global human rights violations.




QUESTION: Do you think she agrees that today the United Nations Security -- the Human Rights Security Council is run by those who are violators of human rights globally?


MR. MCCORMACK: She believes that there has been nearly singular focus on issues related to Israel to the exclusion of other very important issues -- human rights issues around the world, including in Burma, Cuba, North Korea as well as elsewhere. So she made the decision that it was not in our interest to run for the Council. We're going to be observers to it and we would hope that in the future that this Council takes seriously its mandate to look at human rights questions around the globe, no matter where they may be, and to meet the mandate that's been laid out for it. Sadly, it hasn't lived up to that mandate.


Yes, sir.


QUESTION: In today's Washington Post, Jim Hoagland's quoted diplomats as saying that Secretary Rice has persuaded Turkey to host a ministerial conference on Iraq next month with the participation of neighboring nations, P-5 and G-8. Leaving aside who has (inaudible), could you confirm that Turkey or Istanbul could be the planned venue for such a conference?


MR. MCCORMACK: It is the Iraqi Government that is going to be sponsoring this potential ministerial meeting. We have an envoys-level meeting that is going to take place in Baghdad over the weekend. That is meant as a preparatory meeting to a possible ministerial down the road. I don't believe there have been any final decisions yet on a venue or location for that meeting. Turkey has served as host for prior neighbors -- Iraq neighbors group meeting and they've played a very constructive role in that process, bringing Iraq together with its neighbors. So I'll leave it to the conference organizers, the Iraqis, to make any announcements about where a possible ministerial meeting might take place.




QUESTION: On Northern Epirus issue in Albania. Mr. McCormack, regarding my pending questions I raised March 7th for the Greeks of Northern Epirus and Albania when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented to us the Annual Report on Human Rights, I got yesterday the formal answers from your press officer Kurtis Cooper: "There are no reliable statistics on the exact population of the Greeks minority in Albania. The last census was taken in 2001. However, Greeks are the largest national minority. Estimates range from 3 to 10 percent, depending on the source. In general, the Albanian Government is allowing the Greek language schools to be open. The Albanian Government granted an operating license to two schools outside the "Greek zone," one in Korca and one in Himare. During a September visit by the Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha to Greece, the Albanian Government agreed to cooperate in the building of a Greek-language university in Gjirokaster to be refunded -- to be funded by the Greek Government."


MR. MCCORMACK: Are you going to wrap this up here?


QUESTION: And in conclusion, "In addition several members of the Greek minority serve on both that 140-seat people's assembly and the executive branch in ministerial and subministerial positions." Do you agree with this response?


MR. MCCORMACK: Kurtis -- (laughter) -- Kurtis is -- as opposed to the unreliability of the statistics that you're asking about, Kurtis Cooper is very reliable and that's a good answer and that is the State Department's answer for you, Lambros.


QUESTION: But the response, however, about the size of the Greek minority in Albania, Mr. McCormack, stated there's "no reliable statistics" about its size, that the last census was taken in 2001, according to the statement.


MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.


QUESTION: I must note that the absence of reliable statistics in the results of the Albanians Government decision to exclude ethnic identity from the census questionnaire, is there any thought given by the Department of State to request that such a choice be allowed in the next Albanian census?


MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any move in that regard, but we'll have Kurtis get back to you with an answer to that question. (Laughter.) It’s proven reliable in the past.


QUESTION: One more on that?


MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros, come on. You took up your time for today as well as next week reading out the answer to that. (Laughter.)


Yeah, go ahead, Samir.


QUESTION: The Syrian Government announced that they will have a parliamentary election next month on the 22nd.




QUESTION: Do you -- will the U.S. be able to send observers or what's your expectations of such an election will be free and fair and transparent?


MR. MCCORMACK: Well, sadly, history does not lead us to the conclusion that we can expect a free and fair election at the parliamentary level. This is -- typically these elections are ones in which the winning candidate wins with about 90 percent of the vote. It's better than the presidential election where they win with 99 percent of the vote.


But Syria is essentially a one-party state and President Assad has made promises about political reform in the past and, sadly, we have not seen that kind of political reform. So we don't have high expectations that this parliamentary election will be either free or fair.


QUESTION: Can I have one more question?




QUESTION: Is the Secretary considering appointing Assistant Secretary Welch to be special envoy to the peace process?


MR. MCCORMACK: Samir, if she were to do such a thing, I would let her make an announcement on that.


QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: When do you plan to send the Under Secretary Sauerbrey there in --






MR. MCCORMACK: Ellen Sauerbrey?




MR. MCCORMACK: She's our Assistant Secretary for Population and Refugees and Migration. She, I think, has left -- departed today on her trip and she's going to be stopping in Syria. She's going to be paired with a representative from the UNHCR. She is also going to be traveling individually then onward to Jordan as well as to Egypt.


QUESTION: Do you know who's going with her from the UNHCR?


MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I can try to track it down for you. I'm not sure if it's going to be an in-country person or somebody from the headquarters. We'll check for you.


QUESTION: How long does she plan to stay in Syria?


MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look, Sylvie. I don't know her travel schedule. You know a day or two.




QUESTION: At the end of the trilateral meeting last month between President Abbas and Olmert and Secretary Rice, you said afterwards that you hoped that there would be much more contact between both -- between the Israelis and the Palestinians to work out the various working groups, et cetera. What contact has there been since that -- since the trilateral, and are you satisfied that they're sort of fulfilling the promises that were made?


MR. MCCORMACK: There have been working-level contacts. I can't list them in full for you, but there have been working-level contacts. And Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas have a meeting scheduled, I believe, for this weekend. So there has been some groundwork that has been done by both of the parties in preparation for that meeting that we both encourage that as well as are encouraged by that.


There are very clearly a number of differences that they have to work through and the prospect of a national unity government has complicated issues for the -- especially for the Israeli Government. We understand that. Despite that fact, we are encouraging them to sit down, discuss with one another their differences. We think that both Prime Minister Olmert as well as President Abbas profited from the opportunity that Secretary Rice afforded them to get together and discuss in a relaxed and more informal setting what had transpired over the recent weeks with respect to the Mecca agreement and how they might look to the future.


So that effort by Secretary Rice was a catalyst certainly for this meeting. And I would expect that at some point in the not-too-distance future she would plan to travel back out to the region to talk to both sides again how they might work through some of those practical day-to-day issues as well as to look out on the horizon and beyond.


QUESTION: So are you hoping for a trilateral --


MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't --


QUESTION: -- out of the meeting this weekend? Is there any plan --


MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't necessarily look for every time Secretary Rice travels out to the region for a trilateral visit. It is encouraging that both sides are getting together on their own. And it's not necessarily the most useful mechanism each and every time. Sometimes you come to the point in diplomacy where it is useful for a third party, in this case Secretary Rice, to be there to help bring the parties together either to help bridge any gaps that may exist between them or to cut through any misunderstandings that inevitably come up. So -- but don't look for that every single time she goes out there.


QUESTION: I'm sorry, just one more thing. In Congress today, Representative Lantos was very critical of USAID over the alleged handing over of funds to -- he said terrorist groups in the Palestinian -- in various universities in the Palestinian -- I think it was Gaza -- a university in Gaza.


MR. MCCORMACK: Islamic University of Gaza.


QUESTION: Yeah, the Islamic University of Gaza. Have you looked into that further or do you have any further information on that, whether it took place?


MR. MCCORMACK: It came up, I think, at the beginning of the week.




MR. MCCORMACK: There was a news story about it. I went through the facts as we know them. I think the bottom line with respect to the Islamic University of Gaza is that it has gone through the vetting procedures that we have put in place with respect to determining whether or not any group is either a foreign terrorist organization or associated with a foreign terrorist organization.




QUESTION: Japan and North Korea met again today for less than an hour, I think, before it broke up. Given that you said that all the various tracks of this February 13th agreement need to progress in order for the entire agreement to progress, are you worried about the age-old animosities between the Japanese and North Koreans blocking what could otherwise be progress on the rest of the areas?


MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, we -- the Japanese were interested in discussing these issues with the North Koreas. We understand why. We fully support that within the context of the six-party talks. We encouraged this working group to take place. We understand that there were some discussions and it surfaced some differences between North Korea as well as Japan, understandably, on this issue. But the important thing is that the working group met, it got started, and it is going to be up to those two parties to decide the pace at which that group moves forward. We would hope that there is a resolution to the issue. It's important for the Japanese people. It's important for the Japanese Government.


So at this point, I would put to you that the terms of the agreement that was signed on February 13th have been met by the beginning of the working group. As for any progress and the effect on any progress on this or any subsequent agreements, we'll see. But the terms as laid out on February 13th have been met. The working groups have started up.


QUESTION: So there are no benchmarks -- built-in benchmarks for actual progress; it was simply they had to sit down and raise the questions?


MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's going to be determined by the two parties. Now, if there's some further elaboration on that in some subsequent agreement, then we'll deal with that. But we fully support the Japanese in raising this issue and seeking a resolution to it. We understand that it's a very emotional issue for the Japanese people. I think put in their place, we would have a similar interest in seeking a resolution to the issue and understanding what happened.


QUESTION: Do you regret that Prime Minister Abe has muddied the waters a bit with his statements about comfort women?


MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is, I think, something that Deputy Secretary Negroponte has spoken to. I think he spoke to it extensively during his trip there. I really don't have anything to add to what the Deputy Secretary said.




QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the --


QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?


QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: Follow up on the North Koreans.


MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, sure.


QUESTION: I just wanted to add that yesterday after the talks the Japanese envoy said in a press conference, "If they want to push forward with talks with U.S., they need to improve Japan-North Korea relations." Do you agree with that?


MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sorry -- who said what about --


QUESTION: The Japanese envoy Haraguchi --




QUESTION: -- said in reference to the failed talks, if they -- referring to the North Koreans -- "want to push forward talks with the U.S., they need to improve Japan-North Korea relations." Do you agree with that?


MR. MCCORMACK: Let me take a look at all of what he said. I want to understand a little bit better exactly what it is he's trying to say there.




QUESTION: On North Korea. Normalization of relationship between the U.S. and North Korea and regarding this, and what is the U.S. final destination of normalization of the relationship with North Korea?


MR. MCCORMACK: What's our final destination?




MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's outlined in the September agreement, the September 2005 agreement. That outlines the end points for everybody and we are only at the beginning of a process. This was an initial set of discussions.


The focus needs to remain in the immediate future on the denuclearization issue. Everybody agrees that that is at the core here. Around that there are other issues that are important to the various other countries; for example, the abduction issue to Japan. For North Korea, they have an interest in security-related issues outside of their denuclearization effort. And so those all are going to be taken into account. But the core here is to get a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.


Yes, sir.


QUESTION: Do you have anything on General Ralston's and Ambassador Ries' meeting with Turkish retired General (inaudible) in Istanbul today?


MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I don't have any information for you.


QUESTION: Can you check that?


MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure. We can check to see if we have anything for you.






QUESTION: On the American women in Russia who were apparently poisoned by thallium, do you have any update on the situation? Is there an investigation underway? Has the United States requested one from Russian authorities, anything?


MR. MCCORMACK: What I understand -- I'm just looking down here at the date -- they apparently have arrived back in Los Angeles. They arrived back on March 7th. And we understand that the Russian authorities are conducting an investigation, as they should, into exactly what happened. Beyond that, I don't have any other information for you.


Certainly, as a U.S. Government, we want to ensure that our citizens have answers to the questions that obviously come up: How did this happen? And we will be checking in with Russian authorities as to the progress in their investigation, you can be assured.


QUESTION: Was the investigation launched at U.S. request?


MR. MCCORMACK: I believe the Russians initiated the investigation on their own accord.


QUESTION: Do you know what their condition was when they arrived in LA? Are they --


MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. You can check either with the families or -- I'm sure they are visiting with physicians and under hospital care, some form of hospital care. You can check with them.


Yes, Nina.


QUESTION: On China, please. Yesterday, they announced an 18 percent increase in their military spending. Gates yesterday said that he was seeking more transparency about their military programs, their space programs.




QUESTION: What's the level of concern at the moment about China and its buildup?


MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this has been a source of concern and interest for the United States as well as others in the region. Quite simply, it is in the interest of China as well as others in the region and around the globe that there be transparency in exactly what the Chinese Government intends not only in terms of the size of its defense spending budget, but on what those -- what that money will be spent as well as what is the underlying doctrine. It helps other countries around the world get a better understanding of what China's intentions are if they have a better understanding of Chinese military doctrine, if they have a better understanding of the budget process and the kinds of equipment that they are developing. And we have been talking to the Chinese Government about this. This was first raised by former Secretary Rumsfeld several years ago. And there has been some marginal increase and improvement in terms of transparency, but there's still a long way to go.


The recent anti-satellite test is a good example to cite. This took everybody by surprise. And the Chinese Government still has not been clear as to exactly what was its intention in conducting that test as well as how that test fits into their overall doctrine about the weaponization of space. So there's a ways to go. And I think that as long as you do have this lack of -- this basic lack of transparency that there is going to be continued concern. And we as well as others are going to continue to impress upon the Chinese Government that it's important that they become more transparent as they take a larger role on the global stage.


QUESTION: Sorry. Different part of the world, but can I move on to Iraq? Can you tell me about your hopes for Saturday's conference?


MR. MCCORMACK: Our hopes for Saturday's conference are that all the countries participating in the conference come prepared to be constructive and have a good conversation about the issues on the agenda. High up on that agenda are going to be security-related issues. The Iraqis are setting that agenda. And it is an opportunity for neighbors to express support for Iraq in their efforts to secure their borders, to secure Baghdad, and also to ensure the free flow of goods and commodities across their borders in a way that promotes economic exchange which is good for -- on both sides of the borders and doing that in a way that is safe and secure.


So we hope that it furthers the process of the neighbors understanding what is going on in Iraq, what the intentions of the Iraqi Government are to secure its population and to fight terrorism within its borders, to fight sectarianism within its borders. And it also can help the Iraqi Government begin to take its place in the region. It's no secret that there have been some tensions and some frictions between Iraq and some of its neighbors in the region, and this is a good opportunity for those neighbors to express their support for Iraq.


And it also makes an important point that there is a shared responsibility on the part of Iraq's neighbors to help Iraq stabilize the situation there and reduce the levels of violence. It is incumbent upon Iraq's neighbors to help out in that regard. Now, the primary responsibility lay with the Iraqi Government. Everybody understands that. But in part, because of the nature of the violence and the fact that some of the violent -- those engaged in violent extremism in Iraq get support from outside Iraq, those neighbors of Iraq bear some responsibility and they need to do what they can to help out this Iraqi Government.


QUESTION: And can I ask you specifically about this apparent setting aside of weapons by the Mahdi army? Any response to that? Any hopes for that?


MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the Mahdi army -- this is a question about the Baghdad security plan?




MR. MCCORMACK: Well, General Petraeus, I know, spoke a bit about this today as well as the Iraqi Government. It is far too early to judge the outcomes of the Baghdad security plan. And inasmuch as any militias are setting aside their weapons or not engaging in violent activities, certainly one can look at that as positive. But it is far too early to make a definitive judgment about the effects of the Baghdad security plan. It is only just starting. But inasmuch as the initial indications are that some of these militias are at least for now putting aside their weapons, then that's positive.


Yes, Kirit.


QUESTION: Just on the meeting in Baghdad, what would you say to critics who say that the United States is only attending because of pressure from Congress and others who have criticized the Administration's handling of the neighbors of Iraq?


MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's not the way you conduct foreign policy. That's sort of a cartoonish version of how the policy process really works. We are attending this meeting because we think that it is in our interest and it's in the interest of the Iraqi Government, our good friends and allies. So those are the reasons why the U.S. Government has decided to send Ambassador Khalilzad as its representative to the meeting.


QUESTION: And just one follow-up. Also, actually, do you have any concerns about security during this meeting, given that it's also a major Shia holiday --


MR. MCCORMACK: Of course. Any time you have an international meeting of this type, a high-profile meeting, you have to take into account the security situation. And I think that the Iraqi Government is aware of the fact that there would be security concerns around any gathering of this type and they're taking the steps that they think are necessary.


QUESTION: Would you say that the U.S. is taking additional steps as well, just given the concerns with the holiday and so on?


MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure that our folks in MNFI are working with the Iraqis, but you would have to ask the folks in Baghdad about what steps -- what specific steps they're taking and how comfortable they are in talking about those.




QUESTION: Ambassador Satterfield spoke today about how this is a new and different kind of conversation, a new and useful format in terms of opening it up to this various grouping. You yourself -- and he said that the United States wouldn't, you know, walk away from talking with Iran or Syria at this conference. You yesterday said you're not going to walk away. Can you talk about how you see this, this usefulness of this new format for discussing various issues with interested parties rather than through third channels?


MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first and foremost, it is important for the Iraqis because they have an opportunity to get all their neighbors plus the P-5 around the table to talk about issues of concern to them. And it is for them a useful forum because they can talk across the table and others can participate. These are complex issues related to security that in some cases are interlocked, so it's very positive to have everybody there around the table.


But the focal point is on the Iraqis here. I know that there's a great interest in whether or not the

-- Ambassador Khalilzad will have any interaction with his Iranian counterpart or his Syrian counterpart. Frankly, those questions are a sideshow to the main event. The main event is the fact that the Iraqis are hosting a conference with their neighbors to talk about these issues that are crucial to their future and, quite frankly, very important to the -- what the neighborhood looks like in the years to come. So others have -- should have an interest in seeing how the security situation unfolds in Iraq.


QUESTION: Well, I know there is a lot of focus on the U.S. and Iran meeting kind of on the sidelines, but you've said yourself that there is a genuine concern among Iraq's neighbors, Iraqis and members of the international community about Iran's behavior in Iraq.




QUESTION: And so do you think that this will make -- be useful in terms of Iran hearing from the rest of the international community, including the U.S. directly and the Iraqis directly, about how their behavior is potentially destabilizing.


MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think President Bush did that when he talked about the Iranian support for the EFP networks, and we also did that by picking up Iranian operatives in Iraq who had some connection to these EFP networks. So the issue has been raised and put out in the public, and it was important that it was. As I have said and others in the Administration have said many times over, we are going to do everything that we possibly can to protect our troops. Force protection is the top priority that we have for our troops in Iraq.


And part of that is surfacing these kinds of activities and exposing them to international scrutiny. And if there is a discussion about this at this next meeting in Baghdad, then that is positive because you will have a different dynamic in that room where Iranian activities are exposed to international discussion in that room. And that certainly is positive. It certainly has a different -- I would argue, a different dynamic than the Iranians being able to operate in the shadows.




QUESTION: With respect to the conference that's occurring this weekend in Baghdad, are you under any -- have you given any guidelines or heard any guidelines, for instance, from the Iraqi Government themselves if the Iranians begin to grandstand? Following the IAEA meetings in Vienna, they seemed to be up to their old behavior and rhetoric once again. And are you prepared, for instance, to go to closed circuit television to be out of the main chambers where this is occurring if they suddenly decide to gain the floor and start to act with this rhetoric and behavior?


MR. MCCORMACK: I can't predict how they're going to act, Joel. We're going to be there to be constructive participants and we would hope that everybody who's attending the meeting would be -- attend in the spirit of being constructive with respect to the questions that are raised in the meeting and on the agenda of the meeting.




QUESTION: Sean, (inaudible) that Chinese military buildup is like you said, that the U.S. and others in the area should be worried -- are worried. I'm sure India must be worried or should be worried also about the Chinese military buildup. What message do you think you have for those nations or how -- what plan you think U.S. has to protect them or if there's any kind of conflict in the area by the Chinese, including Taiwan?


MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure what you're --


QUESTION: I mean, what message for --


MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?


QUESTION: What message the United States has for those -- or advice for those nations in the area, including India, from the Chinese military buildup -- any threat?


MR. MCCORMACK: Well, if the Indian Government has concerns about the Chinese military buildup, then they should engage the Chinese Government about those concerns.


All right, thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:08 p.m.)

DPB #41

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