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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 2, 2007


Private American Citizen Missing in Iran / Welfare and Whereabouts Inquiry Sent To Iranian Government Through Swiss Channel
Term "Hostage" Being Applied to Detained British Soldiers / U.S. Support for UK Government's Efforts
Free Trade Agreement
Attack on AU Peacekeepers in Darfur
Diplomatic Next Steps / Sudan Should Allow All 3 Phases of the UN-AU Hybrid Force / Possibility of Sanctions / Troop Contributions
Next Steps in Interaction Between Arabs and Israelis / Arab League Initiative / Normalizing Relations Important for Peace in the Region
Secretary Rice to Travel to the Region in May
No Date Set for Next Quartet Meeting
U.S. and Saudi Arabia Have a Shared Interest in Iraq / King Abdullah Shares Vision for the Region / Secretary Rice's Conversation with Foreign Minister
Speaker Pelosi's Travel / A/S Jim Jeffrey Provided Pre-Travel Briefing
Syria's Behavior in the Region is Unacceptable
Banco Delta Asia Issue / Treasury Delegation Still in Beijing
Chris Hill's Travel Plans
President Lula's Visit to the U.S.


12:40 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. No opening statements other than to say that the Boston Red Sox start their campaign and march to a World Series victory with the assistance of Dice-K and the gyroball, so I just wanted to mark that for everybody.

QUESTION: The hubris is just overwhelming here, Sean. (Laughter.) If you obviously believe that anything good is going to come out of saying that at the first on-the-record --

MR. MCCORMACK: We have excited members of the Red Sox Nation in strategic places throughout the State Department.

QUESTION: Right. Well, so to make sure we don't give Al Kamen something else to lead off on in his column, next column, let's stop the sports. I don't have --

MR. MCCORMACK: The NFL (inaudible) --


QUESTION: Do you have anything on this -- there's apparently a private -- there's an American citizen who was -- has been reported missing in Iran.


QUESTION: Do you have any details on this citizen, and what was he doing there? Anything else you may have would be welcome.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. There's a limited amount that we can offer you at this point because we don't have a Privacy Act waiver, but there is an American citizen, private citizen, who is in business -- who was in Iran on private business about which we're -- about whom we're pursuing a welfare and whereabouts case. We have been monitoring the situation for a couple of weeks now. Today we are sending to the Iranian Government through the Swiss channel an inquiry as to whether or not they have any information on his welfare and whereabouts. That's really about all that I have at the moment.

QUESTION: Could you say what his profession was? Was he looking -- was he on some media expedition?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't. At this point we're really constrained. I do have a little bit more information, but it's not at this point anything that I can share in public just because of privacy concerns. We have been in touch with the family and we are in continuing touch with his family, but I can't really offer more than that.

QUESTION: And you said it was a couple of weeks. Could you be more precise than that? Is it, you know, more than four weeks, five weeks, six weeks?

MR. MCCORMACK: Several weeks. I don't have an exact date for you.

QUESTION: You all know when you have been advised first? When is the first time --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's been a few weeks, a few weeks.


QUESTION: Why, if he's been missing for several weeks, that you're finally sending a welfare and whereabouts to the Iranians? Have you been making your own inquiries through other channels about him and now going to the Iranians?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, of course, we've been following the case and we have been gathering information from a variety of different sources. There are a number of different people who are looking into the case -- private citizens. And so we are -- we've been monitoring the situation via that information. And at this point we don't have any reliable information as to his whereabouts, so that's the first step is we're trying to determine where exactly he is.

QUESTION: Did you hear from the family or from the employer first?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you. I'm not sure exactly from whom we heard first.

QUESTION: And as far as you know, the message is just being sent today through the Swiss? You haven't had any contact with the Iranian Government about this before today?


QUESTION: So how are you tracking -- trying to find out where --

MR. MCCORMACK: Obviously, his family and his employer were seeking to determine exactly where he was, where he is and what exactly his whereabouts are.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Can you confirm at all that he was elderly or older, as some reports have said? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: At the risk of offending anybody, I'm not going to characterize that. Just let me add one other thing here, and that is the fact that he is -- emphasize one thing for you. He is a private citizen. He was there on private business and we don't see any linkage whatsoever between this case and any other ongoing cases that may have been in the news recently.

QUESTION: And is it Kish Island; is that right?

MR. MCCORMACK: I believe so, yeah.


MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else? Yes.

QUESTION: On the U.S.-South Korea FTA and just a comment about how you see this reflecting U.S. commitment to East Asia. And also, do you think that the FTAs are a good tool in diplomacy in the region?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly they are a tool in the region. The conclusion of this FTA is quite gratifying. It was a long, tough negotiation that came down right to the last minute, but we're very pleased that we were able to conclude the FTA. But FTAs are by no means the only tool of economic diplomacy at our disposal. At the moment, we don't plan on starting up any new FTA negotiations because trade promotion authority runs out on June 30th, so absent that horizon we don't think it's advisable at this point to start any new negotiations. I think that's really all I'd add to it.


QUESTION: So far the British-Iranian situation, specifically the use of the word hostage, which President Bush used over the weekend. I know the British press are using that word, but as far as I know, the government's not using that word officially.


QUESTION: Can you talk a bit about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it just denotes the fact that people are being held against their will. You can use a lot of different words for that; hostage is obviously one of them. We're not trying to make any particular political statement with that by using the word. But it just outlines the fact that these people are being held against their will and that they should be returned safely and unharmed immediately.

QUESTION: Also, I understand you're trying to stay out of this matter. It's a matter for the British and the Iranians.


QUESTION: But in general terms surely this is another example of Iran, you know, isolating themselves -- continuing to behave like a rogue state. Can you talk a bit about that -- this continued behavior?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have -- we are not directly involved in this. We have been trying to play a supporting role to the British Government and have done so in a number of different ways: in our public statements, in supporting them in the Security Council, we supported them with a strong statement in NATO just a little over ten days ago or about a week ago.

In terms of what we are doing for the British Government, Secretary Rice has been in contact with Foreign Secretary Beckett. President Bush has talked about it. Secretary Rice talked with Margaret Beckett just yesterday to get an understanding of where we stand on the issue. In terms of Iran's behavior, there are a number of different places where you can point to that their behavior is well outside the internationally accepted norm, whether that's on the nuclear issue, on terrorism, on their treatment of their own citizens in the case of human rights and political rights. The British Government, I would only say with respect to this particular case, the British Government has presented compelling evidence that these marines were operating within Iraqi waters under a UN Security Council mandate. So any claims to the contrary I think are just really a diversion.



QUESTION: In the Balkans, Mr. McCormack. Last week the U.S. Government has decided to furnish defense articles and defense service to Montenegro and Serbia in the name of security and peace in the Balkans. Do you know whether, for instance, implies sales of arms or grants of arms to Serbia and Montenegro?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to get back to you on that. Don't have any information for you.

QUESTION: And one more.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no.


MR. MCCORMACK: One question today.

QUESTION: Today one question?

MR. MCCORMACK: Today, just one question, yes.

QUESTION: On Sudan. Do you have any comment on the ambush on the peacekeepers in Darfur?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. We condemn this attack on people who are there trying only to provide some semblance of security for innocent civilians in Darfur. I understand that we don't know yet who was responsible for the attack. Of course, we call upon the Sudanese Government to find those responsible for the attack and bring them to justice.

QUESTION: Sean, there was some reports in the paper this morning that sanctions could be coming against several Sudanese officials as early as next week, which is after Easter, and that the U.S. and the Brits are coordinating on it pretty closely now. What is your --

MR. MCCORMACK: What we're looking at is what next diplomatic steps we might take because quite clearly to this point the diplomatic pressure that we as well as others have tried to apply -- it hasn't been working. Now, we still hold out hope that perhaps Secretary General Ban heard something that we might -- heard something in private that we had not yet heard in public about Sudan's position. And we actually have Andrew Natsios who is going to be up in New York today meeting with Secretary General Ban to get a read on that.

So -- but thus far, we haven't heard anything from the Sudanese Government. We haven't seen any actions by the Sudanese Government to indicate that they're going to change their position about letting in all three phases of the AU-UN force and they have also raised a number of different caveats, trying to put in place a number of different caveats that would make -- that we believe would lessen the effectiveness of that force.

So as a result we have to take a look at what else we might do. There are a number of different diplomatic levers that are at our disposal. You mentioned sanctions. Certainly that's one -- bilateral sanctions, multilateral sanctions. So we are considering right now what our options may be. We're doing that both within the U.S. Government as well as in consultation with some of our partners in the international system. At this point I don't have anything -- any announcements for you but stay tuned because, frankly, the situation can't continue as it is right now.

QUESTION: Would something -- would an announcement come most likely from the White House?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think we'd work that out as to where exactly it came from, here or the White House.

QUESTION: Can you give a sense of the assembling of this hybrid force, the AU troops in particular? I mean, a couple of months ago it was struggling to find people that would contribute. Is there any update on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Don't have any news on that front. It is -- it has been tough going trying to get contributors to this force for a number of different reasons, one of which were the subtle signals that the Sudanese Government was sending about whether or not these forces would be coming into a permissive environment. That, of course, would put some people off. They don't want to try to -- they don't want to send their forces into a non-permissive environment. Everybody understands that.

Then also, the idea that the Sudanese have put out there that this could only be African forces, that of course limits the number of peacekeepers that you can get in there. There's only a certain amount of capability that you have on the African continent. And those are restrictions that would hamper the effectiveness of this force. We think that (a) Sudan needs to give the green light to this force going in there and making it very clear to any potential troop contributors that they're not going to have a problem sending their troops in there.

And then also, there needs to be -- there need to be forces from outside of African in this AU-UN force just for the simple reason of not a matter of will on the part of African forces, but just the limited amount of capability that they have.

QUESTION: This is what I'm asking is, if you get the green light, will there be a force at all? Or is it all sort of hypothetical? Or is too hard to say, too --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, too -- yeah -- no, to -- in our view, the whole object of the exercise of applying diplomatic pressure is to get the Sudanese Government to clearly assent to the fact that those forces can come in there. You need a -- in whatever the case, you need a force to go in, because they need to be able to provide security not only for the people, but the humanitarian aid workers, providing an environment in which that -- Darfur is more stable and that you can actually start to make some progress on the implementation of the Darfur peace agreement and get to a political solution, which is ultimately how you're going to resolve the tensions that are existent in Darfur and Sudan as a whole.

QUESTION: But are you confident you'll be able to use this force?

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Are you confident you'll be able -- this force will come?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we don't see an alternative at this point, so that's -- you know, it's not really a matter of being confident. It's what needs to be done.

Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: On the Middle East, there are reports in Israel that the U.S. and Egypt are like, urging the Israeli Government to talk with the Arab quartet. What does the -- update now, what are the next steps that the Secretary is going to take regarding like, after the Arab League renewed the -- presenting the Arab peace initiative and the positive reaction by the Israelis? I mean, what's the next steps that you are considering?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the next steps in terms of dialogue and interaction between the Arabs and the Israelis are really going to be up to them. We can be in a position of encouraging them, encouraging dialogue if on the Arab side they are not satisfied with the response to -- response by Prime Minister Olmert and his suggestions. Of course, they're open to make counter suggestions. What we have asked is that both sides use the re-launch of the Arab League initiative as a point of departure for active diplomacy. I know that the Arab League has talked about the fact that they are going to form these committees to go out throughout the region to explain not only to the Quartet and G-8, but other interested parties that might include Israel.

What the basis for this proposal is, what are the specifics of it and we believe that that's positive. We believe that it could be positive to have an interaction between the Israelis as well as potential Arab partners because ultimately if you're going to bring peace to the region you need to have that reconciliation between Arab states and Israel. Now, you already have that in the case of Egypt and Jordan. Then there are other Arab states that have varying degrees of contact or relations with Israel, all the way out to the point where there is no contact or no relations between Arab states and Israel, so we think that it's a point of departure. How exactly they use this potential opening is going to be up to them. We encourage them to explore the possibilities.

As for Secretary Rice, I don't have any reports in terms of phone calls. I expect that she will be going back out to the region probably some time in May. We don't have a date set yet, but I would expect some time in May to encourage that process to move forward as well as to encourage contacts between the Israelis and the Palestinians, as was announced during her last stop. President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have pledged to get together every two weeks, start talking about some of the issues that need to be resolved, if you're going to see a Palestinian state.

QUESTION: Last time the Quartet meeting, the international Quartet meeting in Washington, they announced that they'll have next meeting in the Middle East. Is there a meeting coming?

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't have a date set yet, but I would expect the -- there would be a Quartet meeting in the Middle East in the coming period of time. We don't have a date yet set for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Michel.

QUESTION: Have you got any clarification from Saudi Arabia regarding their statement on the American presence in Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: Secretary Rice spoke with Foreign Minister Saud over the weekend. They had a good conversation. Our takeaway from it is that U.S.-Saudi relations are on a good, solid footing, as they have been before, and that we have a common interest; we have a shared interest in seeing an Iraq that is whole, that is an Iraq that is an Iraq for all Iraqis -- Sunni, Shia, Kurd, other ethic and religious denominations, and that King Abdullah shares the vision of a more peaceful, secure and prosperous region. And so that was really the takeaway from the phone call, I think.

QUESTION: Was she satisfied from Prince Saud, the (inaudible) clarification on his and King Abdullah's --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'll let the Saudi Government speak for themselves, but they had a good phone call. I think they -- and I think the Saudi Government understood some of our surprise about that particular phrase that was in King Abdullah's speech about Iraq and occupation. And I think they took onboard some of the comments that we had made in public about that. So -- but I'm going to let them speak for themselves.

QUESTION: Was it the Saudis that wanted to bump it up to the foreign minister level? I mean, last week it was just Secretary Rice talking to the Ambassador here. Who made the decision to talk to the Foreign Minister? Did they call you or did she --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm not sure. Off the top of my head, I can't tell you. Secretary Rice was happy, obviously, to talk to the Foreign Minister and they talked a little bit about the results of the Arab League summit as well as this issue.


QUESTION: Can I ask a question about Speaker Pelosi's visit?


QUESTION: Has she -- is she -- and the political delegation -- are they carrying any messages from the State Department to -- on her trip to the Middle East and especially to the Syrian leadership?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. No, no messages in the sense that this was a trip that was encouraged by the Executive Branch of the government. But we did -- once Speaker Pelosi had made the decision that she was going to be going to Syria, we did sit down and had a briefing with her. We explained where we were in our policy vis--vis Syria and we encouraged Speaker Pelosi, as we have with other congressional delegations that have gone to Syria, to send a tough message to the Syrian Government that they need to change their behavior, that their behavior on a variety of different fronts in the Middle East is completely unacceptable and 180 degrees off from where we hope the rest of the region is going to be headed.

So that is what we would encourage her to say when she meets with Syrian officials. What message at the end of the day she decides to convey to the Syrian officials, of course, is going to be up to her.

QUESTION: Can you tell us who briefed Speaker Pelosi?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it was Jim Jeffrey. He's our -- the Principal Deputy in our Near Eastern Bureau.

QUESTION: Did Mr. Jeffrey brief the Republican congressman that went as well?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. We do have -- we at least offer briefings to the congressional delegations who go out to the region and in particular to Syria.

QUESTION: Is there a reason why the White House and the State Department highlighted that Speaker Pelosi's trip was a bad idea, but there are also Republican congressman doing the same thing and we didn't hear anything about that last week? Is it simply not being asked about it or --

MR. MCCORMACK: A few things. One, first of all, we were asked about it here at the State Department. The second thing is, you know, you have the third -- the person second in line to the presidency, third highest-ranking elected official in the national -- elected official in the United States. So of course that raises the profile of the visit there and, frankly, we think, sends the wrong signal because in the past the Syrian Government has just used high-level visitors as a way of pointing -- trying to point out to the world that, look, there's no problem with our behavior; see, we're receiving high-level visitors in Damascus.

The other thing is I would point out a few months ago when Senator Specter decided to travel to Syria, we talked quite openly and in public about the fact that we didn't think it was a good idea for him to go there. Nonetheless, he decided to go there and we offered the same kind of support to him as we are offering to Speaker Pelosi as well as other congressional delegations that decide to go to Syria.

QUESTION: It seems a bit confusing though if you're saying that she's sending the wrong signal, yet you're sitting down with her and briefing her and, you know, giving her some guidance as to what --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it works -- I think it's important for everybody. I think it's to the benefit of not only the Executive Branch but the Congressional Branch to have an understanding, a solid understanding, of what our policies are and what our most recent interactions have been with the Syrian Government. I think that that is useful information for us to convey and for congressional delegations to receive. It's also a matter of courtesy, just as it is a matter of courtesy that we would extend support to visiting congressional delegations when they visit foreign countries as well as Syria.


QUESTION: Do you have anything on how the BDA issue is proceeding?

MR. MCCORMACK: Still working on it, still working on it. Our delegation from Treasury is still in Beijing working on the issue.

One more behind you, Charlie.

QUESTION: Yeah, real quick. Will Chris Hill be returning as soon as Treasury is done?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think he has any travel plans at this point that have been set. I expect he will go back for another envoy's level six-party meeting, but we don't have a date yet set for that.

QUESTION: And the ministerial is still on track, on schedule?

MR. MCCORMACK: It hasn't been scheduled yet, but the idea is that there -- once you have the 60-day period concluded, that at some point following that, you will have a ministerial-level six-party talks.

One more, a fellow here. Yeah.

QUESTION: One more on the visit of President Lula of Brazil --


QUESTION: -- to Washington and if it has anything to do with the behavior or misbehavior of Venezuela's President Chavez?

MR. MCCORMACK: President Lula's visit here?

QUESTION: Yeah, he wasn't --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I would think -- I would look at it in the affirmative, that this is an indication of close U.S.-Brazilian ties, two very important regions -- countries in the hemisphere who have a common set of interests in promoting greater prosperity, greater understanding, greater social justice throughout the hemisphere. We have a lot of similarities, we're a multiethnic democracy, so we have that shared experience. So I would view it entirely as something that is affirmative and positive as opposed to in reaction to something else.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)

DPB # 57

Released on April 2, 2007

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