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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 19, 2007


Agenda for Secretary's Travel to Middle East
Quartet Conference Call / Quartet Statement Expected Tomorrow
Palestinian National Unity Government Does Not Meet Quartet Principles / Should Renounce Terror, Violence, Recognize Israel
Two Sides Should Look Toward Future Palestinian State
U.S., Quartet Concerned About "Right of Resistance" Language in Platform
Hamas Attack on Israel Disturbing, Unacceptable by Standards of International Community
Visas For Iranian President Ahmedi-Nejad and His Traveling Party / U.S. Will Fulfill UN Host Country Obligations
Agenda of Iranian Delegation's Visit to New York
UN Security Council Resolution
Secretary's Outreach to E-10 on Resolution
Threats to Expel Western Diplomats
Hanging of Former Vice President / Matter for Iraqi Government
U.S. Committed to territorial integrity of Iraq
Progress on Six-Party Talk Agreements / All Parties Meeting Obligations of February 13 Agreement
Next Phases of Agreement Difficult
Banco Delta Asia Assets / Macanese Must Work Out Details of Funds Transfer
Denuclearized Korean Peninsula is Central Focus of U.S. Efforts
Threat of Russian Veto of UN Security Council Resolution
Martti Ahtisaari's Progress on Kosovo Solution / Contact Group Meeting Next Week
U.S.-Italy Bilateral Relations Good
U.S. Pleased about Release of Kidnapped Journalist


2:52 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. No opening statements. We can get right into any questions that you may have.

QUESTION: Can we start with -- are you yet in a position to announce the trip that the Secretary was talking about this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll have a formal paper statement and I'll try to do it this afternoon or tomorrow morning for you.

QUESTION: Could you walk through --

MR. MCCORMACK: Here's -- at the very least, we're going to have meetings with Israeli representatives, I would expect Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni. She'll meet with President Abbas. She will also have meetings in Egypt with President Mubarak, Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, and it's envisioned that she would have a meeting with the Arab Quartet while in Egypt and there may be another stop back to see the Israeli side as well as the Palestinian side.

QUESTION: Great. And then speaking of the Quartet, I gather there was a Quartet conference call today. Can you give us a sense of how the discussion went and what the outcome is?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's going to be a statement, a Quartet statement that the envoys are working out now. I would expect the statement probably won't come out until tomorrow morning just because they're working across time zones now and it's pretty late in Russia and this has to get approved up at the ministerial level, so we'll probably see it tomorrow morning.

So in terms of a formal readout, I'm just going to wait until that statement. I'll let the statement speak for the ministers coming out of that phone call. You got a little bit of a taste of where everybody is with listening to Secretary Rice, Mr. Solana, and Foreign Minister Steinmeier upstairs. I would -- just as a piece of guiding information, I would say I wouldn't expect any changes to come out with respect to funding for this new national unity government. I don't expect any changes in those guidelines. I would expect it --

QUESTION: In the statement?

MR. MCCORMACK: In the statement when it comes out. And I would expect a reaffirmation of the -- what we are referring to as the foundational principles for peace in the Quartet statement.

QUESTION: How about -- will the temporary international mechanism get reupped for another three months?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yes. Yeah, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner mentioned that while she was upstairs, so yes, there will -- it is renewed for another three months.

QUESTION: And when you say it's getting worked at the envoy level, is that at the Assistant Secretary Welch level?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, David Welch level, yes.

QUESTION: And just lastly, can you tell us who was on the conference call? I assume it was ministerial, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Secretary Rice, Minister Solana, Foreign Minister Steinmeier, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

QUESTION: And Minister Lavrov?

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, Lavrov -- Foreign Minister Lavrov, yes.

QUESTION: So all four of them were in the same town?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's right. Yeah, they -- we could have had them over instead of just having a phone call.

QUESTION: But it was a call?

MR. MCCORMACK: It was --

QUESTION: With the four of them in the room with the speakerphone on?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it was a conference call via a telephonic device, handset, a cord. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Kosovo --


MR. MCCORMACK: No, we're going to come back to you. We'll get to Kosovo.


MR. MCCORMACK: Mr. Rosen, congratulations.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR. MCCORMACK: He is a proud new father.

QUESTION: Very kind of you, thank you. We'll come back to your congratulations, Mr. McCormack. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Don't pay any attention to him, Lambros. Don't pay attention to him.

QUESTION: From the comments that we heard upstairs, it sounds as though the United States at least has made a conclusion that the national unity government, as it exists now and what -- in terms of what it is saying now, does not meet the principles of the Quartet.


QUESTION: Fair to say, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, yes.

QUESTION: The call for the extension of the temporary mechanism by Benita for another three months and the use of the term from Javier Solana's to the effect that "We're going to watch to see what they do instead of just what they say," does this suggest that we're going to give this government a sort of trial period of 90 days to see how they conduct themselves?

MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't say necessarily 90 days or put any particular time limit on it. We're going to continue to watch what they do and they say. Our hope would be that they would come around to agree to meet the foundational principles for peace, to renounce terror, renounce violence, and recognize Israel's right to exist. That's a situation where you can have an actual negotiation between a Palestinian side in which their political system has coalesced around one position and an Israeli side and really have the opportunity to advance the cause of peace and realize a two-state vision.

You don't have that right now. You do have President Abbas who is committed to those Quartet principles and he is an interlocutor for the Israeli Government in talking about those issues in the so-called phase one of the roadmap. It's sort of daily issues of how do you work out security, how do you make the daily lives of Palestinians who just want to go to work and send their kids to school and earn a living, how do you improve their lot while reassuring Israel on their rightful security desires.

So the idea is that the Israelis and the Palestinians certainly can work on those issues and that we had a little bit of that on the Secretary's last trip to the region, where they did talk about those issues. The Secretary would also propose further that the two sides start to talk about the so-called political horizon and those issues that might serve to frame out the Palestinian house, what is a Palestinian state look like. And I would expect that during this trip she may have separate discussions on those issues with Israeli side with the Palestinian side. But ultimately, we would like to get to a point where you have the two sides talking about those two levels, if you were, of issues together.

QUESTION: From the Secretary's remarks upstairs where she said it didn't sound very good to her about this right of resistance that's included in the language --


QUESTION: -- and that we should ask the Palestinians what they mean by it. Has -- is it the understanding of the Secretary and of the United States Government that Mr. Abbas is claiming that this language that has been framed out does meet the principles of the Quartet?

MR. MCCORMACK: That was language that was in the national unity government platform that Mr. Haniyeh referred to. We find that element in the platform disturbing and we have talked about that in public over the weekend when we were reacting to the formation of the national unity government. She was rightly pointing out that it is up to the Palestinians to define what this means, this rather antiseptic phrase. Are they really referring to the fact that they condone the use of terror, blowing up innocent civilians for a political cause? So she was merely pointing out that it is incumbent upon the Palestinians to further define exactly what they mean rather than just use some sort of catch phrase that's rather antiseptic. But we have reacted over the weekend in saying that we find that element of the national unity government platform disturbing.

QUESTION: My question was whether Abbas has maintained to us, or representatives of Mr. Abbas have maintained to the United States Government, that he believes that this does meet the conditions of the Quartet?

MR. MCCORMACK: President Abbas, when the government was formed, gave his own speech in which he reflected the Quartet principles back out to the world, those principles he has stood by for many years: renunciation of violence, turning away from terror and recognize Israel's right to exist. That's where we would like to see all of the Palestinian political body. As it stands now, President Abbas and his political cadre agree to those principles and that was, in fact, the position of the Palestinian Authority for many, many years. It's really just with the advent of Hamas' election that you have a turn away from those principles. So what we are actually doing is calling upon the Palestinians to go back to where they have been for the past decade.

QUESTION: But is he asserting to us that this should be good enough to meet -- is Mr. Abbas asserting to us that this language meets the Quartet's principles?

MR. MCCORMACK: I will let him speak for himself. I think that in his speech he reaffirmed at various points along in that speech that his adherence to the Quartet principles and those who are working with him. I don't think you could say the same about Prime Minister Haniyeh's speech.

QUESTION: Does your asking that the Palestinians to further define and parse the phrase "right to resistance" imply that if there was -- that there might be some kind of resistance that you -- political resistance, for example, or non-violent resistance to an occupation that the U.S. wouldn't have as big a problem -- or wouldn't have a problem with it at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't -- again, the core issue here is violence and resort to violence for so-called political ends, whether that's terrorism or other kinds of violence, which is just completely unacceptable.


MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't heard anybody talking those terms prior to this. I don't know if the Palestinians would choose to. What we're looking for is an unambiguous statement from all of the Palestinians, from Hamas or this national unity government that, they, in fact, do intend to abide by and live by those Quartet principles that were outlined. You know, I can't --

QUESTION: You'd prefer if the phrase didn't exist at all in any form, if they just opt to -

MR. MCCORMACK: The right to resistance?

QUESTION: Right, exactly.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I think the comment -- I think everybody's assumption here is that it is a code word for use of violence and use of terror. I haven't seen any indication that the Hamas or this national unity government has tried to define it otherwise.

QUESTION: You've been speaking about the right to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Resistance.

QUESTION: -- to resistance, but not about the two other principles. Does it mean that you are satisfied with their -- what they say about the right of Israel to exist and the recognition of past agreements?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I haven't seen anything -- what Prime Minister Haniyeh said that would indicate any adherence or desire to adhere to the Quartet principles. President Abbas very clearly did. But again, I haven't seen anything else that clearly lays out any expectation that Hamas right now intends to abide by those Quartet principles.

QUESTION: None of them?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I haven't -- no.

QUESTION: If we can go back to watching what they do and not what they say. The armed wing of Hamas today said it carried out its first attacks on Israel since the Gaza truce in November, it attacked an Israeli utility worker and it fired mortar bombs at Israeli soldiers. Do you have any comment on that? I mean, regardless of what the words are, the actions do not seem to be anywhere near what you are calling for?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's disturbing. It's clearly disturbing. You have, again, a armed faction operating outside the bounds of a Palestinian Government, taking the future of the Palestinian people into their own hands and unfortunately that's a future that does not end up with a Palestinian State, with -- given that kind of behavior, continuing firing of rockets, attacks into Israel. Those are things that are very clearly unacceptable by the standards of the international community.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) acting outside the bounds of the Palestinian Government, so you don't hold the Palestinian Government responsible for this. You feel like these are freelancers and not people reflecting the policy of the Government.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, these are -- you referred to the armed --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- "armed wing" of Hamas. While this is -- Hamas is in the view of the Palestinians a political party, in our view it's a terrorist organization. But just for a second to step into the Palestinians' shoes, they do it as a political party. This would be an armed faction of a political party which by definition would be operating outside of a Palestinian Government. So in that view, it is something that is outside the political norm or something that other democratic -- other states recognize where you have a government that controls -- has a monopoly on the use of force in maintaining security. But you know, let me make it clear that we do view Hamas as a terrorist organization.

QUESTION: I ask because I -- my assumption would be that you actually would hold the government responsible for this. In other words, it's the elected government. It's responsible for the territory under its control, notably Gaza and therefore it should stop these things.

MR. MCCORMACK: Of course, they do have a responsibility to stop these attacks and under the roadmap, they have a responsibility to break up terrorist organizations as well.

QUESTION: I was wondering if we went back to the schedule on the Secretary's trip. You said it was likely that she would meet the Arab -- there might be an additional stop where she met the Arab Quartet and then she would go back to the region to meet the Israelis and the Palestinians again, correct?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. That's a possibility.

QUESTION: Why? Why would she go back? What would happen with the Arab Quartet that would require her to go back? Why couldn't that be handled in the first place?

MR. MCCORMACK: What you want to do is try to start a process here and sometimes you begin that process by having a discussion separately with each of the parties in relaying where they are, looking for opportunities to bring them together with respect to their decisions, looking to -- for opportunities where you can close those gaps. I'm not saying that that is necessarily going to occur on this trip, but that is how she views this process going forward. She wants to work with each individual party, where possible, bring them together to -- so that they can talk through any differences they might have and maybe even try to close some of those gaps.

QUESTION: And still no plans for a three-way meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't expect on this trip, no.

QUESTION: Can you -- is President Ahmadi-Nejad's passport ready at will-call in Bern with a visa stamped into it?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Let me update you on where we are. We had the -- if I can recall here, we have a total of 39 visas that have been approved. The breakdown of that would be 13 diplomats and 26 security. They all have, I think, the same -- basically the same kind of visa, so those have been approved in Bern. There was just today another request for 33 air crew visas. So what we're going to do is we're going to go through the visa process there, doing all the checks that we need to do. And then once that process has been completed, we're just going to actually issue, which means putting the visas in the passports all at once. But we'll make it clear that there's -- we are not going to be in any way hindering the ability of President Ahmadi-Nejad to appear before the Security Council. We're going to fulfill our host country obligations, so we're going to do that and then in a manner or so that there is no question whether or not he can appear before the Security Council.

QUESTION: The 13 diplomats?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that Larijani and the foreign minister are both among those 13, too?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Both of them are here.

QUESTION: Do you know if any were rejected at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe so.


MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe so.

QUESTION: And Sean, this does not mean to be frivolous, but do they -- do people with diplomatic passports, which I assume that all -- at least the 13 will have. Are they still subject to the same immigration fingerprinting and eye things when they arrive?

MR. MCCORMACK: Good question. Let me ask. I think there's --

QUESTION: I think he's been here since that came into effect, but I just don't know.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check, Matt. I think that there are different categories here when you talk about heads of states and ministers than others in the party. But let me -- we'll get you an answer.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the date of arrival or departure yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. That will be up to the Iranians. They have not yet scheduled at the Security Council a date for the beginning of the debate on the resolution or the vote.

QUESTION: And how long is their visa valid for, do you know?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. We --

QUESTION: I'm just curious.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm happy to look into the -- see if we can share the information for you.


QUESTION: Is this one of these visas where they're allowed to go to New York and the five boroughs but they can't travel outside? Is that -- (inaudible) mile limit?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's the standard practice. I'll see if that applies in this case.

QUESTION: Yeah, and I also want to make sure that they submitted the right kind of photographs, you know --

MR. MCCORMACK: There is a standard --

QUESTION: -- standard.

MR. MCCORMACK: Standard size. You know, it is one of my goals to see that you are reassured, Matt. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: And also seeking reassurance on this matter, the United States Government has charged the Government of Iran with complicity in the funneling of ordnance into Iraq that has the direct result of killing American soldiers.


QUESTION: Here we have the President of that country on our soil. Do we have any plans to interrogate him about this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. We, of course, in the neighbors meeting in Baghdad raised this issue with the Iranian representative. Make no mistake, we are -- we don't have diplomatic relations with Iran. But we are the host country for the United Nations and as a result we have certain obligations and we are going to fulfill those obligations.

QUESTION: Still on Iran. At the UN itself tomorrow, is it correct to say that there will be informal discussions tomorrow afternoon? It's more formal on Wednesday?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I -- they've been ongoing. I suspect that there are probably informal discussions going on among any given number of the members of the Security Council right now. So we're going to be talking to all the other members of the Security Council to talk them through the resolution, underlining the fact that we do want to try to move this as quickly as we possibly can but also ensure that countries understand all the provisions that they are comfortable with what they are voting on regardless of which way they vote. It is a draft resolution that has been agreed among the P-5. We think it's a good strong resolution, albeit it incremental, but it's still a good strong resolution.

QUESTION: Can you -- can I follow up?


QUESTION: Would you hear Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad's case before that resolution is passed? Is that how it works?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's one or the other. He can choose to either give a pre-buttal -- I guess you could say -- prior to a vote or a rebuttal once the vote has taken place. It's really up to the Iranians working with the Security Council chair, which in this case is the South Africans this month.

QUESTION: Just on the resolution. I noticed that the President spoke to the Indonesian President this morning.


QUESTION: And the White House has made it clear that this was a major part of the conversation.


QUESTION: Do you know if -- in terms of the Secretary's outreach to the E-10 has been, if there's been any kind of similar --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. She has spoken with Foreign Minister Wirajuda of Indonesia and she has also spoken with --


MR. MCCORMACK: This was -- no, this was over the weekend. And then she's also spoken with Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassem of Qatar.

QUESTION: And those were --

MR. MCCORMACK: Both on Saturday.

QUESTION: But both on the resolution?


QUESTION: And -- okay, sorry. What was the second one, Qatar?

MR. MCCORMACK: Qatar, yeah.

Kirit. We'll get to Kosovo. We'll get there.

QUESTION: New topic if I could?


QUESTION: On Zimbabwe. There's reports that the U.S. Ambassador walked out of a meeting with the foreign ministers. I'm wondering if you could confirm that. And also, if you could say whether there's any consideration in lowering the U.S. diplomatic presence in Zimbabwe, calling back the Ambassador or anything like that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not -- I hadn't seen those reports, Kirit. Chris Dell, our Ambassador there, is just doing an outstanding job representing the United States and representing the values that we're -- our nation's been founded on.

I'll check for you to see whether or not he actually had a meeting with the foreign minister. At this point, I don't anticipate any lowering of the diplomatic presence. He's really doing a terrific job there. But we'll, of course, keep you up to date if there are any changes to that status.

QUESTION: The Zimbabwean Foreign Ministry, the Foreign Minister, in fact, said on state television that he had called in Western ambassadors accused of backing the opposition and warned them that it would -- the government would not hesitate to expel those who support the opposition's politics. So I don't know -- if you didn't know about that report, I mean, essentially threatening to boot western Ambassadors. One would be interested in not just in whether Ambassador Dell was there, but to what your reaction to this idea of this threat of expelling western Envoys from the country?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. I have an idea of what we might say, but

QUESTION: Go ahead. Go ahead.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check -- yeah, let me check into the facts here. We'll post an answer for you guys.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.


QUESTION: On Iraq, the former vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan is going to be hanged tomorrow morning. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's a matter for the Iraqi Government. This is an individual that has had a trial by his fellow citizens that has by most accounts met the standards, basic standards of international justice. He has had an appeal. And it's -- this is an Iraqi decision with respect to the sentence being carried out.


QUESTION: Can I go to North Korea, please? I wanted to --


QUESTION: Okay. I wanted to -- please -- I wanted to follow up on some remarks made by Chris Hill and Danny Glaser yesterday and today. First, Ambassador Hill said that the North Koreans, and I'm quoting now, have begun their tasks for the purpose of denuclearization. What have they done?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't had a chance to talk to Chris. I -- we'll get a full readout from him when he gets back. I know he's been talking to the Secretary checking in with her usually once a day in the morning. But I haven't actually had a chance to talk to him or I haven't talked to her about exactly what he means by that.

QUESTION: Well, he was asked: Can you elaborate on what tasks they've begun for denuclearization. And he said, "In the sense that they had ElBaradei there," that's his quote. And then he was asked again now specifically and I'm quoting the reporter's question: "Is there any action they took besides inviting Mr. ElBaradei?" And Ambassador Hill's exact response was, "No, but it's pretty clear that they are prepared to move ahead." When this was pursued today with Chris Hill, he said, "We're at day 33, day 34. I don't see any reason we need to talk about that. I think the North Koreans understand they've got some obligations in 60 days and we'll get to work very hard and get all that done." My question to you is should it be a source of concern for those who have viewed North Korea's treacherous history with regard to nuclear accords that here we are at day 33, day 34 of a 60-day phase that calls for such a massive task as shutting down the Yongbyon complex? And all that we can point to in terms of North Korean actions on the ground is a photo op with Mr. ElBaradei. Should that be a source of concern?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think that we should be concerned at this point. We know that this particular agreement has a limit of 60 days and there's a series of tasks that all the six members of the six-party talks have to carry out within those 60 days. We certainly go into this, as well as the other parties clear-eyed with respect to past agreements in that history. The North Koreans have said in private as well as public that they intend to fulfill the terms of the February 13th agreement and we of course are going to do our part to fulfill the terms where there are obligations for us.

We'll see. This is a step by step process. We'll see where we are at the end of 60 days. They have pledged that they are going to fulfill their commitments. And at the end of 60 days, we will see. I can assure you that we will have fulfilled our commitments at the end of the 60 days. And at the end of the 60 days, we will see where we are. If the commitments have not been filled, then you have to have a judgment as to what the next step is. If they have been fulfilled, then there are certain things that are prescribed in the February 13th agreement.

I would expect that you move on to the next phase. And the next phases are very difficult. You're getting into an actual full-up declaration that's been certified of all the Korean -- North Korean nuclear programs. You're starting to get into a disablement phase of their Yongbyon research facility and those are going to be tough discussions. I don't think anybody has any illusions about that. So we'll see. We'll see and if they don't fulfill the terms at the end of 60 days, then they don't realize the benefits, which means some of that delivery of heating oil or in-kind goods.

QUESTION: But might -- you could presumably give me the same answer on day 59 of the first 60 days and tell me, "We'll see where we're at at 60 days."


QUESTION: And the thrust of my question is that here we are at almost -- I can't do that kind of math in my head, but 35 out of 60 days and we don't see any actions on the ground besides a follow-up with ElBaradei. Why shouldn't that be a matter of concern? Do you think that it could only take --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's 25, by the way, James.

QUESTION: What's that?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's 25 days, by the way.

QUESTION: Well, the percentages is what I couldn't do the kind of math, but -- you know, is that normal -- are we two-thirds of the way through the 60 days and they haven't taken step one? Doesn't that concern you?

MR. MCCORMACK: James, we'll see where we are at the end of 60 days. They have thus far acted in good faith, invited Director General ElBaradei to Pyongyang to work out a program where the inspectors would return and they would go in, they would seal the facilities and take the steps that they would to begin the sealing and then the North Koreans would have to shut down the facility as well. You'd want to do that in a safe manner. I can't tell you exactly how long that takes. I'm not an expert in -- you know, nuclear reactors. But there's a time limit, there's 60 days, and we'll see where we are at the end of those 60 days.

Thus far, process-wise, we're moving ahead, the working groups have met, we have taken steps with respect to Banco Delta Asia and they, on their side, have taken the initial steps of starting to meet with the IAEA. We'll see how things unfold in the next three weeks.

QUESTION: Just if you could -- you mentioned BDA and part of the announcement that Mr. Glaser made today specified that the funds in question will be set aside into a -- probably a foreign trade account --


QUESTION: -- in Beijing that will -- for which there is a guarantee or there is an assurance from the North Koreans --


QUESTION: -- that it will be used for humanitarian purposes. And when Mr. Glaser was asked today by a reporter, "How do you guarantee those funds will be used for humanitarian purposes," his answer was, "Well, there are no guarantees in this life. We'll see if we can work this out." Given that we made such a big deal over these funds and the use of these monies, why are we satisfied with this resolution of the matter when "there are no guarantees in this life?"

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, again, you are involved in a process now -- or we are all involved in a process in the six-party talks. We are trying to bring about a change in behavior in the North Korean regime. Basically, that means get them to give up their nuclear program so you have a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. Along the way, we are going to have to act in good faith on certain issues. This is one of them. We have acted in good faith to bring about a resolution of this issue. We're going to have to see good faith returned by the North Koreans on a variety of different fronts.

And as I said before, we are going to see how all this plays out. Thus far, everybody is playing their roles, everybody is meeting the obligations that they have set out for themselves. As for this money, that is an issue most basically for the North Koreans and the Macanese to work out. The Chinese also have a role since they have a overarching regulatory authority over the Macanese system. So the actual return to the money will be done by the Macanese authorities into a Bank of China account.

That is where they -- North Korea's -- I can't remember the name of the bank -- the trade bank basically has in it -- holds an account. And the North Koreans have pledged to all the other members of the six parties that this money is going to be -- or they pledged in the context of the six parties that this money is going to be used for the betterment of the Korean people and most especially, for educational and humanitarian purposes. And we'll see if they follow through on that pledge.

Now let's all acknowledge also that because of the closed nature of Korean society, that it is very difficult to monitor behavior in Korea. Various international organizations, for example, like the World Food Program have run into this problem over the past years and for a while actually suspended shipments of humanitarian food aid to North Korea because they couldn't assure themselves that that humanitarian assistance was actually getting to the Korean -- the North Korean people.

They have resumed some of those shipments with a modified version of that oversight regime, and I think they're going to take it on a step-by-step basis just like all the rest of us in the six-party talks to see if the North Koreans follow through on their obligations.

QUESTION: One last thing, just as a -- make sure I understand a use of language. You just started a sentence by saying the North Koreans pledged to all the six parties or said within the context of the six-party talks.


QUESTION: What is the distinction there, just that they didn't make the pledge themselves and five were --

MR. MCCORMACK: This was -- I only changed the phrasing just because the issue involved the North Koreans, the United States and China and by extension the (inaudible).

QUESTION: I see, okay.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) Sean. I continue to be perplexed by the announcement that all the monies that have been frozen by the Macanese authorities can now be released. And the reason I'm perplexed by that is that multiple Administration officials told us over the last several months that they didn't think it was possible to distinguish between tainted monies and those that might be considered not to be tainted. And some of them even said that they regarded all the money to be tainted. So how can you return all the money, albeit to a Chinese bank and therefore presumably under some degree of Chinese supervision if the Administration officials who were telling us before that some of the money was certainly tainted and it was hard to distinguish between what was and wasn't?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. Well, a couple of things. One, the integrity of the Treasury process in which they are attempting to ensure that the international financial assistance is not used for illicit trade or illicit activities is preserved by this ruling. Because what you had was a bank, Banco Delta Asia, which was willing to look the other way with respect to certain behaviors by which we as well as others had questions. The Macanese authorities acted to freeze the assets of that bank and Treasury conducted an investigation consistent with our laws and our regulations. They came to the end of that investigation. They have come to the conclusion that they can't certify that Banco Delta Asia could participate in the international financial system, at least as far as we are concerned.

From that point of view, the issue -- from a regulatory standpoint the issue was closed, as I understand it from my Treasury colleagues. It then became a question of the disposition of the frozen accounts in those monies. That was always going to be a question for the Macanese authorities as it is right now -- the return of those assets. And we were able to share with them the findings of our investigations and it was never envisioned that these assets would be frozen forever. That was really just an action that resulted from what we did with Banco Delta Asia.

So again, this is a -- it's a process that followed all the legal requirements as far as we are concerned. And I can refer you over to the Treasury Department in terms of trying to discern between different funds in different accounts and what they thought of those accounts and I'm not in a position to do that for you. But again, this was something that ultimately had to be executed by the Macanese authorities. We took the steps that we felt as though we needed to.

QUESTION: The thing that -- and I understand that you wanted me to ask this at Treasury and I understand that they are the people who are primarily responsible for this, but if even a dollar was tainted, it's not clear to me that the integrity of the process has been respected.


QUESTION: If they get it all.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that the -- again, my Treasury colleagues will differ with you on that. I've given probably a pale explanation of exactly why that is the case. But the view is that the primary concern about which they were acting was the Banco Delta Asia and their activities. That is their mechanism to try to prevent illicit activities from occurring in the international financial system.

QUESTION: Stay on the Banco Delta Asia topic?


QUESTION: At the start of the (inaudible) process, it was considered completely separate to the six-party talks and then it moved to a position of you were willing to provide information on the sidelines and it ended up becoming a central issue of the six-party talks. How would you explain that shift in position over the last 18 months? I mean, you're talking about how the object is to change North Korean behavior, but it seems like it's the U.S. that's been changing its behavior on this topic?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it was dealt with in a separate channel. We established a separate working group with the Treasury Department and they had their interlocutors on the North Korean side. Chris Hill didn't participate in those meetings. We viewed it as a matter separate from the six-party talks, but again it was something that was important to the North Korean side and in the six-party talks various subjects can be brought up that are important to different parties, for example, the abduction issue was put on the table by the Japanese Government, a move that we fully supported. So you brought into the six-party talks a number of different issues and that is absolutely legitimate. The core, however, of the exercise that we're pursuing right now is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and that is the central focus of our efforts and the central focus of all the other parties in the six-party talks, but that doesn't mean that you cannot bring in other issues.


QUESTION: The Russian Ambassador left a meeting on Kosovo in UN at the Security Council. He said that UN was very partial on the Kosovo -- the status question. I wanted to know if you are not afraid Russia could veto any UN resolution in the final status of Kosovo?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, you know, I'm not going to try to presume what Russia may or may not do when we get to a vote in the Security Council on the status of Kosovo. There's a long time between now and then, while there's a -- there are a lot of meetings, consultations and other activities that will have to take place between now and that point. And we --

QUESTION: Does it include --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- and we have pledged to consult with the Russian Government as well as others who have an interest in the issue. Martti Ahtisaari is working on behalf of the Contact Group to try to bring the sides -- all sides together and invest in a solution. I dare say at the end of all this process it is probably not a solution that's going to make every single party happy. As a matter of fact, all along the way there may be -- everybody involved may find something that they don't necessarily like about it, but that is the nature of multilateral diplomacy. There has to be give on all sides.

It is our view that Mr. Ahtisaari is doing a very good job. He is an outstanding diplomat. He is working hard to try to bring in as many -- bring on board as many parties in a constructive way as he possibly can. But it is -- all that said, it is coming up on the time when the international system needs to come to some closure on the issue of Kosovo. It's been an issue that has been outstanding for many years now. And if there were an easy solution to it, we would have had it well before now. But it's a tough, complex, emotional issue for a lot of people in the region of Southeastern Europe. So we are going to do everything that we can to work in good faith as part of the international system to bring about a solution. Secretary Rice spends time on this. Nick Burns spends time on this. The President spends time on it.


QUESTION: On the same issue. Mr. McCormack, Secretary of State (inaudible) Condoleezza Rice earlier today given the joint press conference with the three EU officials, (inaudible) told us inter alia that they discussed, too, the Kosovo issue. I'm wondering to which extent and if you could elaborate more on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think I'm going to get too much more into their closed door discussions, but they talk about the state of play, they talked about the meeting last week in Vienna. They talked about Mr. Ahtisaari's efforts. I believe next week there's going to be a meeting of the Contact Group as well to start talking through Mr. Ahtisaari's proposal and his thoughts and that's basically what they talked about, sort of the outlines of diplomacy both in the immediate region as well as within the Security Council.

QUESTION: One more question. According to NBC, Senator -- he did say (inaudible) stated that U.S. departure from Iraq would cause a regional disaster and asked the Iraqi Kurds to stay in Iraq saying, "Please don't leave. If you leave there's going to be a bloodbath. The Turks are not going to sit on the sidelines and watch Iraq degenerate into chaos and allow independent Kurdistan? How do you respond to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we support the territorial integrity of Iraq and an Iraq that is a nation for all Iraqis, whether you're Shia or Kurd or Chaldean or Kurd or whatever ethnic background. And the Kurdish leadership with whom we work are committed to those goals as well. The President of Iraq is a Kurd. He is probably one of the most, if not the most, respected political figure in Iraq today. And so I think that is testament to the idea that you can have a unified Iraq that is big enough and that is the kind of place where various religions or religious -- people from various religious backgrounds or ethnic identities can coexist. There are clear challenges to that today. We see it every single day on our television screens and in newsprint. But we are committed to and the current Iraqi Government is committed to the territorial integrity of Iraq.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: One quick one, Sean. The Secretary I understand is going to meet with Italian Foreign Minister D'Alema this evening, I think over dinner. I think it's closed.


QUESTION: A big story in Italy. Can you get us tonight some kind of a brief readout through the duty spokesperson on what they discussed?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's just going to be the two of them.

QUESTION: Is there any way to get anything?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll get her to try. I'll get her to try.

Yeah. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in Italy and Mr. D'Alema from Italian Foreign Minister Mr. D'Alema, said in an interview today there's been turbulence between Washington and Rome and both sides are working on it -- to overcome them. At what point is Washington overcoming it and how do you comment on this turbulence, please?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'd have to look at exactly what he said, what he was referring to in the turbulence. There's always in any relationship, there's -- you always hit some bumps, but we have a great relationship with Italy and this government. We work together well on issues ranging from Iran to Afghanistan and fighting the war on terror. So in any relationship, you're going to have ups and downs, but we have a fundamentally good and sound relationship with Italy and consider them a close friend and ally.

QUESTION: One more thing, if I can?


QUESTION: An Italian journalist was released today after two weeks -- kidnapped in Afghanistan. And I was wondering if you'd comment -- could comment on that and especially on the fact that apparently that was possible after the release of Taliban.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly nobody is happier than his friends and family that he's back home. I think everybody can really appreciate that. Certainly our hearts are glad that he's back with his friends and family. It is also sad that I understand that his Afghan associate was lost in this and that's terribly sad. It just underlines the fact that the Taliban are a brutal force that has an interest in turning back the clock on Afghanistan and that is why we as well as NATO are on the ground there, working with the Afghan Government to help the Afghan people build a better future for themselves.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:36 p.m.)

DPB # 47

Released on March 19, 2007

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