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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 3, 2007


Private American Citizen Missing in Iran / Welfare and Whereabouts
Letter to Iran via Swiss Protecting Power about Missing American Citizen
Status of British Detainees / Question of Linkage with Release of Iranian Today
Public Statements by Iraqi Minister Zebari on Iranian Detainees
Iraq Neighbors' Conference / Dates/ Venue
US View on Lancet Study Unchanged
Attack on AU Peacekeepers in Darfur
Diplomatic Next Steps / Hybrid Force / Possibility of Sanctions
Readout of Somali Contact Group Meeting in Cairo
US Indictment Against Indian Citizens Transferring Technology
Affect on US Relations and U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement
Protests in Pakistan
Steps Taken to Resolve Banco Delta Asia Issue
Status of Six-Party Talks
President Yushchenko's Call for Parliament to be Dissolved
UN Security Council Discussion/ Russia Proposes Fact-Finding Mission


12:21 p.m. EST

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

Mr. Lee.

QUESTION: Thank you. I don't really have any specific questions, unless you have any updates for us on the situation with Iran and the British sailors and also the situation with the missing American. If you can tell us whether the Swiss have told you that they have delivered your letter of inquiry or if you've gotten a response from them?

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't have confirmation yet that the Iranians have received it. We have handed it over to the Swiss. And I expect in the near future that they will hand it over to the Iranians.

QUESTION: Does that happen in Bern, here? Where does that happen?

MR. MCCORMACK: It usually happens in Tehran.


MR. MCCORMACK: The Swiss are a protecting power in Tehran where we hand over -- we hand this over to the Swiss --

QUESTION: Who would hand it over to them in Tehran? Do you have a diplomat in Tehran right now that we should know about?

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, no, no. I thought you were talking about where did the Swiss hand it over to the Iranians?

QUESTION: No, no, no. Where do you give it to the Swiss? That's --

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, I don't know. I suppose here in Washington. I'm not sure.

QUESTION: So you are not sure that they received it and you don't have any news from them?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's correct. We don't have confirmation yet that the Swiss have yet handed over the inquiry to the Iranians, so we therefore have not heard anything back from the Iranians yet either.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any confirmation that the Iraq Government is pressing the U.S. Administration to release the five Iranians detained in Iraq or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there have been some public statements from Foreign Minister Zebari to that effect periodically since these individuals were captured and they were detained by our multinational forces in Iraq because they were involved in the networks that were providing resources as well as materiel to those individuals in Iraq who are using these EFDs, highly charged explosive devices to go after our troops. And as a result, they were detained and they are currently detained by the multinational forces. They're there being treated as other security detainees are treated in Iraq. They've been assigned a detainee number, a security detainee number. And as for any other details about the disposition of those individuals, I'd refer you to the multinational forces in Iraq.

QUESTION: Yes, but what about this public statement by Mr. Zebari? Do you have any answer to - public answer to him?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of their disposition and how exactly they are dealt with, they're going to be dealt with as are other security detainees in Iraq. I can't speak to the details of that or what the plans are. Like I said, you can talk to the multinational security forces in Iraq. I have to underline the fact these individuals were part of or supporting a network that is intending to kill U.S. troops in Iraq -- the very people who are trying to bring greater security and stability to the Iraqi people. So this isn't -- these people weren't picked up because they were jaywalking. They were picked up because they were engaged in activities that could threaten our troops.

QUESTION: When do you think evidence will be presented against these individuals who were picked up? I mean, how long can they be detained for under -- or could they just be detained indefinitely without any charges being laid?

MR. MCCORMACK: You can talk to DOD about that. It's the multinational forces that are handling them. They are being treated as any other security detainee in Iraq. You can cite -- you can -- for example, if there was a foreign individual who came into Iraq who was engaged in combat with our forces and was somehow subsequently detained, they are being treated in exactly the same manner and handled exactly the same way as that individual might be.

QUESTION: So they're not being treated like -- in the same -- they're not in the same category as terror detainees, for example, held in Guantanamo Bay? Is this a new category of detainee or

MR. MCCORMACK: Talk to the Department of Defense about all the -- exactly where they might be being held. I don't know if that's information that they would give out and the specific circumstances under which they're being held. But they're being treated as other security detainees in Iraq are treated.

Yes, Nina.

QUESTION: Previously, you've said that the Iranian Government isn't monolithic. During this current hostage crisis -- I know this is a British issue -- but can you or your analysts see any kind of factionism within the government at the moment? Are things changing? Is there tensions within the Iranian Government itself?

MR. MCCORMACK: Very difficult to detect. You can only detect echoes of potential debates that are happening behind the scenes in Iran because it's a very closed, opaque regime and it's very difficult to discern exactly what calculations are ongoing and who holds what positions on a given issue. We've seen a little bit of this pop out into the press -- the Iranian press in recent months vis--vis the nuclear issue, seen some debate whether or not the Iranians are pursuing the proper course. I haven't seen any similar kind of debate in public regarding the U.K. marines and sailors that were being held by the Iranians. So we really don't have much insight as to what is going on, the decision-making processes of the regime.

QUESTION: Have you seen any examples, particularly with Larijani and Ahmadi-Nejad? Any tensions between them at all, any public comments perhaps Larijani has made recently?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing that I've detected. They may be out there, but nothing that I've seen.

QUESTION: Okay. Just one more thing. I know you've been asked about this before, but can you confirm that there's absolutely no link between this current hostage crisis and the release of the Iranian today?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's correct. Well, as far as we know. We've seen the press reports that this individual is going to be released, turned over. Those I can't confirm for you. In stepping back a bit, the U.S. Government was not involved in his abduction, seizure or his detention, so we don't really have any -- much information about this individual whatsoever or his current circumstances and I couldn't tell you whether or not there is any linkage between those two events or not.

Yes, Sylvie.

QUESTION: The Iraqi Foreign Minister said today that the case of this diplomat was followed by some Iraqi and American people in Iraq. I wanted to know if by any chance you know if U.S. could have worked for helping for this liberation or release.

MR. MCCORMACK: This individual?


MR. MCCORMACK: Certainly not to my knowledge. I don't think we have --

QUESTION: He mentioned --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- have had or have anything to do in any respect with this case.

QUESTION: Because I know for an example when some Italian hostages were released, the U.S. tried to help Italians to get the release of these hostages.

MR. MCCORMACK: To my knowledge, we have absolutely nothing to do with this case in any way, shape or form.



QUESTION: Just to follow as far as Iran and the British standoff, we still have the painful memories of 1979 as far as the U.S. Embassy and U.S. diplomats were concerned in Tehran, and according to past reports this president was also involved and now he's also involved in this situation here. Demonstrations at the U.K. Embassy are similar to what there used to be at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Do you know if it's true that he might be using the same scenario that what you did last 30-plus years -- 30 years ago?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. But this government has engaged in seizing unjustly U.K. military officials before, back in 2004. That particular incident was resolved in a matter of three or four days, I think. So there is some precedent for this in recent history. I'm not going to try to make connections back across the decades, but there is some precedent for their having done this before.

We quite simply support the U.K. Government in their efforts to see that these individuals are returned immediately and safely. They're being unjustly held by the Iranian Government. These individuals were operating in Iraqi territorial waters under a Security Council resolution. So they should be returned immediately and safely, and we continue to support the U.K. Government in all their efforts to see that these individuals are returned.

QUESTION: Sean, this President of Iran is not acting as a statesman or world leader but other than -- more than like supporting terrorism and also still in his mind wipe out Israel from the world map, and he has not slowed down. I mean, what are you reading what he is up to? He's challenging the international community or the U.S. or UN or EU or what?

MR. MCCORMACK: Goyal, you know, far be it from me to try to get inside the decision-making processes of the Iranian regime. We just -- you know, we don't know. I can't tell you what the calculations were or whether or not there were any calculations made in the decision to seize these individuals. All we want to see right now is that these individuals are returned.

QUESTION: On the case of the missing American, is there any evidence that you have gathered that supports that he may have been picked up by Iranian authorities?

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't have any credible information at this point as to his current situation, and that is the reason why we have decided to take the step of communicating directly with the Iraqi* Government via the Swiss channel to see if they have any information that they can provide about his whereabouts or his particular situation.

QUESTION: Sean, in the past, I believe that people have said that this kind of thing happens about two or three times a year or -- on average, about two or three times a year. In the past, have the Iranian -- when you have sent these inquiries, have the Iranians responded at all or been helpful?

MR. MCCORMACK: To my -- I'll have to check, Matt, to see if in the past we have taken the step of communicating directly with the Iranians via the Swiss channel. Typically what we would do in these cases, American welfare and whereabouts cases, we would -- and we did this for this case as well, I've been able to track this down -- is that we contacted the Swiss Embassy, our protecting power in Iran, and asked them to make inquiries but not directing them specifically what inquiries to make whether or not they have any information about the whereabouts or the welfare of a particular individual.


MR. MCCORMACK: So it's a different kind of step than we would take -- than we have taken just yesterday.

QUESTION: Has this been done, to your knowledge, to the past that the actual letter specifically asks -- that you are wanting the Swiss to hand over to someone in the foreign ministry?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Matt. I don't know. I don't know the answer.

QUESTION: Does it -- but would this then -- does this mean that your concern is greater than it has been in previous cases about this specific person?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'd have to know whether or not we've taken this step before.

QUESTION: Well, right, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Our concern is for any American citizen who may be missing or whose whereabouts are unknown or whose specific situation is not known by his family or his friends, we take them seriously and in equal measure regardless. You know, I can't at this point attribute a specific level of concern to the individual beyond that we would normally have with a welfare and whereabouts case. We're concerned about any American citizen.

QUESTION: Well, except that I think that you just said that the cases that you're aware of in the past hadn't risen to the level of an actual sending a letter through the Swiss to the Iranians in the past in cases that you --

MR. MCCORMACK: I just - no, I don't know the answer to that. What I'm outlining for you is the initial steps that are taken typically in these cases -- and I'm saying typically -- is that we make an inquiry with the Swiss Embassy and that's the --

QUESTION: Has that happened in this case as well?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, it did happen in this case.

QUESTION: So you have already -- you had already been in contact with the Swiss once. They got no response or --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we did not -- there are two different things here. One is contacting the Swiss Government, the Swiss protecting power in Tehran, and saying can you make inquiries, not specifying what inquiries or what actions they may take, but can you make inquiries to determine the welfare or whereabouts of an individual.


MR. MCCORMACK: Which we've done in this case.


MR. MCCORMACK: We've taken another step now, and that is contacting specifically and directly via the Swiss the Iranian Government.


MR. MCCORMACK: So it would be a communication from the United States Government to the Iranian Government via the Swiss asking them if they have any information about this individual.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, this is a little bit of an unpublicized development that you didn't -- that hadn't been mentioned before, so that's why I'm asking so many questions about it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I understand. It's something --

QUESTION: To your knowledge, did --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's something that just came to my attention today. That's why I'm passing it along.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, do you know -- do you know when the first outreach was made to the Swiss, this kind of less formal --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, let me see here --

QUESTION: -- non-written --

MR. MCCORMACK: The non-written --well, yeah, but it is important to specify -- to differentiate between these two things.


MR. MCCORMACK: One is a communication --

QUESTION: That's what I'm trying to do.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right -- one is a communication between the United States Government and the Swiss. The other, which happened yesterday, is a communication between the United States Government and the Iranian Government via the Swiss.


MR. MCCORMACK: Let's see here. It was about -- on or about March 12th.

QUESTION: So for -- then can we assume or is it fair to assume that since you have now taken this second step that there was no satisfactory response to --

MR. MCCORMACK: We didn't -- yeah, we don't have --

QUESTION: You weren't able to glean any --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- the Swiss relayed any information --

QUESTION: -- do you know if the Swiss made any inquiries with the Iranians based on your initial --

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't -- I don't know. One can assume that, Matt, but I don't know that as a fact.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then this would seem to suggest, however, the second -- the letter to the Iranians, that your level of concern is higher than it would be in a normal case or in a typical case?

MR. MCCORMACK: No -- it's -- no, that's not the way I would look at it. We are, with any American citizen, going to do everything that we possibly can to, on behalf of the family and that individual, help them out. In this case, that entails finding out information about this individual's welfare and whereabouts. And once you're able to determine that, depending on the specific circumstances, then you determine what else is -- what else the United States Government might do. So I don't look at it as an increasing level of concern; I look at it as the United States Government doing everything that it possibly can on behalf of this individual and his family.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I just -- but there is quite a bit of time. I mean, three weeks has gone -- went by between March 12th and April 2nd. Can you find out for us whether the Swiss got back to you and said, "Look, we've made some inquiries, but we haven't gotten -- we haven't heard anything," or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they -- yeah, they did during that period of time, yes.

QUESTION: They did?


QUESTION: Oh, I thought you just said you didn't know.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, you asked me specifically with whom they interacted, the Iranian Government, and I said I don't know.


MR. MCCORMACK: And I still don't know standing here. I do know that they have gone back to us and said that they don't know his welfare and whereabouts.

QUESTION: But -- and that's after they asked someone in the Iranian Government and you don't know who?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you with whom they spoke, Matt. That's -- I've answered that question three times for you. What I can tell you is that we still don't have any reliable information about his welfare and whereabouts.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: And in the past, did the Swiss inquiry work? Was it enough for you to have --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, I don't -- I can't tell you. I don't know. I'm not going to go through a case history of every American citizen who may have gone missing in Iran. I try to get --

QUESTION: But you told us that this is another step, so I wanted to know if in the past, the fact that you asked the Swiss to do an inquiry, was it enough so you didn't have to write a letter directly to the Iranians?

MR. MCCORMACK: There's no question about whether or not we believe the Swiss are acting in good faith as our protecting power --

QUESTION: No, no, no. I wanted to know if it was successful, if you got the answers you --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's irrelevant because each individual case is different. You have to take them on their own accords and based on the facts as they are before you. We do everything that we possibly can, as I've said, to help out an American citizen and help out their family. So you can't compare individual cases, because the specific circumstances of those cases are unique.

QUESTION: The FBI has publicly said that he was an FBI agent a decade ago. The fact that he was an FBI agent, which has publicly been disclosed --


QUESTION: Does this raise the level of concern that the United States has about his safety and that there may be claims that he's spying on behalf of the U.S.?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen anybody make those claims. I haven't seen --

QUESTION: In the eyes of the Iranians? I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen anybody make those claims.

QUESTION: Another subject?


QUESTION: Another subject related -- two questions, Sean. Two Indians were arrested on the charges of transferring nuclear missile technology to India. Any -- you think this arrest will impact on any - on this ongoing U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, which is still pending in the U.S. Congress?

MR. MCCORMACK: Goyal, I don't see any connection between these two things. I would expect that the Indian Government will continue to negotiate the so-called 123 Agreement in good faith. Certainly, the United States will. Recently we have a team back from New Delhi. They had some discussions with the Indian Government. We regrouped after those discussions. I know that Nick Burns who's handling this issue on a daily basis for the United States had some discussions with that team. Got a little bit of feedback from them and I expect that he's going to be in touch with the Indian Government about what course we take now. Certainly we're serious about that. We want to ensure that the Indian Government is still serious about concluding this agreement.

QUESTION: As far as these arrests are concerned, you think it's a serious case because this is a -- I think it's first time ever any Indians were arrested.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, any time you have allegations of violations of the Arms Export Control Act, which is the law under which these indictments were made, it is a serious matter. And certainly our law enforcement officials state very seriously their obligation to enforce the laws and in this case they have unsealed a 15-count indictment against these two individuals. And in the indictment, there's a formal list of the charges. But, of course, we take this very seriously.

QUESTION: Another related question. Also, Chinese (inaudible) was also arrested on spying for China and stealing U.S. secrets. All of these people are after the U.S., stealing the secrets and technology. Any comments on this Chinese --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any information about that, Goyal.


QUESTION: Sorry. Can I just follow up on the Indian story?


QUESTION: Has the Pakistani Government raised any concerns about this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of.


MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. They may well have, but I'm not aware of any concerns they've raised.


MR. MCCORMACK: Sean, what are the difficulties in convening the ministerial meeting in Istanbul and do you think as the Secretary said by the middle of April, is that still on track because, I mean, clearly the Europeans and the Turks have spoken at least in private about some difficulties in gathering everybody because there are a lot of people obviously there. They have more than 30 delegations to be there, so.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, everybody has to be comfortable with the venue, the dates. There's a lot to arrange here. We're talking to the Iraqis, we're talking to others who may have an interest in hosting such a conference. That I think is a very positive sign that you have a number of different places that are actually competing to host this neighbors' conference so that's a positive development. It will work itself out. And I'm sure in the coming days and weeks, we will have an announcement of the where and the when. And once we get there with all of Iraq's neighbors as well as the P-5 and other representatives, then it will be a good show of diplomatic and political support for this Iraqi Government. And in turn, I think that all the members, all the attendees at that conference will look to the Iraqi Government for an explanation of what are the steps they're taking, for example, in security reform, economic reform, as well as their progress along the pathway to democracy. So it's going to happen. I don't have a date or a place for you yet, but it'll happen.

QUESTION: So there are no substantive issues that are sort of delaying? This is more logistical and technical. What I mean, is there -- you're not waiting for anything on the ground to happen in Iraq before the meeting happens?


Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: New question. There's been criticism in the past over the validity of the Lancet study, the numbers of Iraqis killed when it was released in October. But last week there was a memo that some senior advisors to the British Government actually backed the methodology used. That said, what's the State Department's take on the numbers of 650,000 Iraqis killed since the beginning of the war?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think our views have changed since the Administration originally came out and commented on the Lancet study. I don't think we've seen anything that would change our opinion.

QUESTION: So despite this backing from senior advisors --

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen the memo you're talking about. I haven't seen any press reports about it. But as far as I'm aware, we are not aware of any information that would change our opinion about the Lancet study --

QUESTION: So do you --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- and its methodology.

QUESTION: -- feel like the 650,000 then is high, is an overestimation, their methodology was incorrect?

MR. MCCORMACK: As I remember, though, the problem was with the methodology and there were a lot of questions about that. And as I've said, I don't think that we have changed our opinion about it.

QUESTION: And a final question then, so do we have an approximation? Does the State Department have an approximation of how many Iraqis are being killed since --

MR. MCCORMACK: There may well be one. I'm not aware of it.

QUESTION: On the BDA, again.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, good.

QUESTION: It's been 10 days since Daniel Glaser went to Beijing and was given that -- we're not quite sure how much progress may or may not have been made. Is it realistic to say that you expect a resolution by this week and that you might be able to the next round of six-party talks next week, meeting the 60-day deadline?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't make predictions about dates for resolution of issues, whether they're in the UN or elsewhere. Certainly, we'd want to see that this particular issue is wrapped up as expeditiously as possible within the confines of everybody's laws and regulations. The United States has taken the actions we think are important to resolve the BDA issue. Now there's a matter of implementation. Clearly, that has become a complicated matter, evidenced by Danny Glaser's 10 days spent in Beijing. But we as well as the Chinese and others are working hard to resolve it. And we would expect that everybody continue to live up to their obligations and that the February 13th agreement. We are going to be coming up in a couple of weeks on 60 days and we would expect everybody to meet their obligations under the terms of the agreement.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, how about the South Korean news reports that the U.S. and North Koreans are planning a bilateral meeting upon the resolution of the BDA? Can you confirm that and --

MR. MCCORMACK: A bilateral meeting?

QUESTION: -- would that happen before the six-party talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any plans for a meeting right now. We have had --within the context of the six-party talks -- we have had bilateral meetings with the North Koreans, but again within the context of the six-party talks. We did that in Berlin. We've done that in Beijing and I wouldn't be surprised if we do it again.


QUESTION: Sean, it's like a bad phonograph record, AU troops were killed over in Darfur near the Chadian border. Obviously it's not working. They're very minimally given weapons to defend themselves and it's been well over three years. Are sanctions going to go in place and I and others have asked what about a no-fly zone surrounding Khartoum? Any thoughts to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Now, the answer on that, Joel, hasn't changed since yesterday -- people are asking about sanctions. We're considering what further steps we might take as an individual country as well as working with other states concerned about the situation in Darfur which is deteriorating. There's an increased level of violence evidenced by the attacks on the AU forces as well as recently attacks on NGOs and it's just an unacceptable situation. So we are considering what it is that we might do, what other diplomatic levers are at our disposal and others are doing the same and we're in contact with them, talking about how we might move forward on the deployment of the AU/UN force. The stumbling block is currently the Sudanese Government. And we're looking at ways that we might employ to get them to change their mind, change their behavior.

QUESTION: Did you hear a readout from Ban Ki-moon meeting yesterday?

MR. MCCORMACK: Andrew was just up there yesterday -- Andrew Natsios -- and I haven't had a chance to talk to Andrew about his meeting, but we'll try to get you something for -- on it, George.

Yes, Dave.

QUESTION: Sean, are you in contact with the Ukrainians about the political crisis they seem to be having? The president has dissolved the --


QUESTION: -- parliament. The parliament refuses to dissolve. Do you -- have you been in contact with them? Do you have any advice for them?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure our embassy has been in contact with Ukrainian officials and our view is that any political questions in Ukraine need to be resolved by the Ukraine Government and in accordance with their laws and their constitution, that the differences are resolved peacefully, and that all parties to the political disagreements refrain from any violent actions, provocations to violence of the other side, so that Ukrainian democracy can continue to develop and that the hard-fought gains of the Ukrainian people aren't put to the side by a political crisis.

The Ukrainian people have demonstrated before that they can, through nonviolent protest and nonviolent means, resolve political differences in their political system.


QUESTION: On Kosovo, the UN Security Council has convened to discuss the issue. Russia is pushing a proposal for a -- to send a fact-finding mission over there.


QUESTION: Are there any facts left to be found there, in your opinion?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, it's an issue -- this particular suggestion is something that the Russians have brought up. It is clearly important to them, so in that vein, people are taking a serious look at it as to how their desire for such a fact-finding mission might move forward and what the specific mandate of such a mission might be and what the specific timetable for such a mission might be.

QUESTION: Sean, one more. Sean, is the Secretary concerned about the massive protest and arrests in Pakistan and General Musharraf is in trouble and also, what Pakistanis are saying, literally hundreds of Pakistanis are being disappeared every day on the streets of Pakistan and their families don't know where they are. So where are we as far as -- because it's an ally of the U.S. and U.S. troops are in the area in Afghanistan in there.


QUESTION: So where do we stand as far as this massive protest or this -- also firing of the chief justice of Pakistan?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is a matter that the Pakistanis need to resolve within the confines of their laws and constitution. Obviously, we're watching it quite closely. We encourage Pakistan's leaders to continue down the pathway to democracy. One way to do that is to instill a sense of confidence among the population that the government will adhere to the rule of law and enforce the rule of law. And that if there are any questions about that, that they be resolved in an open, transparent manner within the confines of their law and their constitution.

QUESTION: One more on Somalia. Do you have a readout of the Somali Contact Group meeting in Cairo and what the U.S. is suggesting could be done to ease the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Don't have a readout for you, Sue. Jendayi Frazer is there now and so I'm hoping to talk to her at some point this afternoon or tomorrow morning. We are, as we have been for quite some time, urging political reconciliation within the Somali political class, as it stands. That is going to be a prerequisite for any hope of Somalia moving forward and emerging from the, really, morass of violence in which it finds itself over the past years and decades.

We are also encouraging any assistance that might be given to the African Union to support the current force that is in there right now. We have about 1,300 Ugandans who are there. They are going to need continued support in terms of logistics as well as other support. That force will also, at some point, need to be augmented. Currently, the Ethiopians are still in Somalia. They're in Mogadishu. And they have expressed their desire not to have a long-term presence there. Certainly that is important that they leave at some point, but it's also important that they don't leave a vacuum when they depart. So in order for that to happen, you need to have credible AU forces that can handle the mission in Mogadishu, and that's really what we were looking at in this conference and we'll try to get you some information as to what exactly was decided, discussed and agreed upon.

QUESTION: Are you disappointed that it's taken so long for the Ethiopians to leave? I know you said you don't want there to be a vacuum, but some might argue, especially the Eritreans, that the Ethiopian presence is exacerbating the problem and, you know, may result in a sort of a more regional war.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, whatever the case, we have to remove any wider regional disagreements that we all know exist between the Ethiopians and Eritreans, and those shouldn't play out in Somalia. What's important is that the international system act in the best interests of the Somali people, and at the moment you do not want to leave a chaotic or lawless situation in Mogadishu and have the international system essentially abandon the Transitional Federal Government, those nascent democratic institutions or nascent institutions in Somalia. That would be a negative development.

By the same token, you also don't want to have the Ethiopian forces in there for any longer than they need to be. But in order for that to happen, you need to have this political process start to move forward, you need to have support for the AU mission and you need to have some plan for how you are going to provide some semblance of greater stability and security in Mogadishu and Somalia as a whole.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:57 p.m.)

*Iranian Government

DPB # 58

Released on April 3, 2007

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