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Military

Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 4, 2007

INDEX:

IRAN
Iran Announces Release of Detained UK Sailors and Marines
Welfare and Whereabouts of Missing American Citizen / Iran's Receipt of Letter / Iran's Request for Further Information
IRAQ
Request for Access to Iranian Security Detainees in Iraq
Prospects for Iranian Participation in Neighbors' Conference
NORTH KOREA
New Mexico Governor Richardson's Travel to North Korea to Facilitate the Return of the Remains of Missing Servicemen
Six-Party Talks / February 13 Agreement / Prospects for Meeting 60-Day Deadline
SYRIA
US Relations with Syria / Jordanian King Abdullah's Remarks
House Speaker Pelosi's Travel to Syria / Meeting with President Assad
ETHIOPIA
Consular Visit to Detained American Citizen


TRANSCRIPT:

12:45 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Don't have any opening statements so we can get right into your questions, whoever wants to start.

QUESTION: George, come on.

MR. MCCORMACK: Defend the honor of the AP. There we are. You guys are out of the running. Sue's --

QUESTION: I was deferring to George. Iran. Do you have anything to add to what Tom may or may not have said this morning because I missed the gaggle and so I don't know.

MR. MCCORMACK: Shame on you, Matt.

QUESTION: I know.

MR. MCCORMACK: We would just echo the sentiments of Prime Minister Blair who just spoke to the matter. Certainly, we will be pleased to see these sailors and marines returned safely to England and to their families. And the fact that this apparently will have been resolved through diplomacy is certainly positive and we echo the UK's sentiments and the idea that this has been resolved through diplomacy. And certainly the fact that the British people, the American people, citizens of the region bear no ill will toward the Iranian people and that we are prepared to work through any difficulties that might arise because of the decision making of the Iranian Government.

QUESTION: Sean, as you may remember, the first foreign policy crisis that the Bush -- this Bush Administration faced was a situation not quite similar but with China and with the EP-3 plane that went down. And that was resolved after you put together the letter -- it's called the letter of two sorries, I think is the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Two verys --

QUESTION: Two very sorries.

MR. MCCORMACK: Very, very sorry.

QUESTION: Very, very sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: Correct.

QUESTION: Was there any -- this appears to have been resolved, or may have been resolved in the same way, with the Brits saying that they wouldn't again go into Iranian waters. You have any consultations with the Brits about how a letter might be worded or a statement might be worded?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. They -- you know, obviously we were prepared to support the UK in any way that they asked us to. We consulted with them in terms of updates of where they stood in their diplomacy and that was quite useful. I'm not aware of any particular counsel they sought from us in how to resolve this. Clearly, they're very much capable of doing that on their own and we were pleased to be able to support them. But I'm not aware of any particular counsel that we drew on from our past experiences that we provided to them.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Apparently the five Iranians being held in Iraq are going to be granted consular access. Do you have any details on this as to why this was granted today? Was there any coincidence --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware that that is, in fact, the case. I am aware that there is a request for access to these security detainees, but frankly, you're going to have to check with the military in -- our military in Iraq who are responsible for holding these individuals. They are in -- under detention because they were involved in these EFD networks and they pose an ongoing and continuing threat to our soldiers; therefore, they are being detained. As for any other questions about whether or not there has been any access granted, you'd have to check with MNFI.

QUESTION: But does the United States intend to grant them access?

MR. MCCORMACK: Who?

QUESTION: Do you intend to grant consular access to the five? I mean, is this something that you would consider? And if they are security detainees -- I'm still not sure under what rules they have --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's being -- they're being held under the fact that you have our multinational forces operating under a Security Council mandate and they are, under that mandate, able to protect and defend themselves and, in our view, breaking up these networks, detaining those individuals that are associated with these networks is part of that force protection mandate that we have.

In terms of the access, there's been a request. We will take that under consideration. I don't have any updates for you at this point, though.

QUESTION: Can you tell us when --

QUESTION: Is the State Department involved in granting or denying that request or is that solely done by the multinational forces?

MR. MCCORMACK: They consult with us. I can't tell you at what level, Matt, honestly.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) when they asked?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look into the information, Charlie. I don't know. I don't know.

QUESTION: Well, what would be your answer, what would be your recommendation to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we would -- we -- it would depend on the circumstances. I don't have the facts, Matt. I really -- I don't have the facts. I'd be happy to try to dig into some more. I have tried to dig into it a little bit more. It has been, you know, frankly, a little bit difficult to obtain information coming out of Iraq, so as soon as we are able to get that information and digest it, analyze it, we will be able to get you --

QUESTION: But you do know that the request has been made?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I've been informed that there was a request, yes.

QUESTION: And why the consular access wouldn't be granted? What is the reason why it wouldn't --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, again, with all the further questions on this, you've exhausted my very thin knowledge on the matter and as I said, I'm continuing to try to look into the matter, get more information for you guys. As soon as I have that, I'd be happy to provide as much of it as I possibly can in public.

QUESTION: Sean --

QUESTION: But this is an issue -- sorry, go on.

QUESTION: Well, when you do and I understand -- I'm not asking for the answer now, but when you do, can you see if the Iranians have been asking for consular access since the beginning, since the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. I'm going to ask all the same questions that you would ask.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: But as a general rule, are security detainees allowed access from their consulate?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm --

QUESTION: I mean, you've had enough of them in custody to know this.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm going to -- Sue, I don't know. I'll have to check for you. I don't know what the standard procedures are.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Could you find out then, please?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, all the questions that you are asking, rest assured I am asking and will be asking.

QUESTION: Because we want also to know why there are -- were -- IRNA is an official agency, so why IRNA is announcing that they are granted this consular access today if it's not confirmed? Why did they announce that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Don't believe everything you read.

QUESTION: Sean, are you aware of any sort of condition from Iran that they are not going to sit down at the same table with Secretary Rice in that potential Iraq ministerial unless these five are released? Are you aware of that coming up in any conversations through the Swiss or anybody else?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think that's been communicated to us. I haven't heard any such reservations on their part.

QUESTION: Speaking about the Swiss and Iran, the Iranians apparently got back -- according to what Tom said, got back to the Swiss asking for more information about the missing American.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. We --

QUESTION: Do you know what kind of information they're asking for?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they're interested in when did he arrive there, how did he arrive there, essentially what was the flight number so they can better determine and track when and where he might have come in to Iran. This -- we take this request for information on the Iranians' part as actually an attempt to try to clarify who this person is, where he came in, in order to help determine where he is and what his current situation is right now. We don't view it as any sort of throwing up any sort of obstacles on their part.

QUESTION: So you think that this is kind of a -- this is a standard --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it's --

QUESTION: I mean, they're actually trying to be helpful or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's a legitimate request for information. They're trying to -- they're working within their system trying to determine when and where this guy came in and that -- apparently, this information will help them out.

QUESTION: But was that information not given to them at --

MR. MCCORMACK: Apparently not. Apparently, we gave them some basic biographical information and they asked in return for this additional information, which we think is a reasonable and legitimate request. We're going to try to gather it up and provide it to them.

QUESTION: That has not been done yet that you know of?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I know of, no. I don't think it has been. I think we're doing that right now.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: In your request to the Iranians, did you ask specifically whether any arm of the Iranian security forces or other officials were holding this particular gentleman?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we didn't make any presumption as to where he is at the moment. We just asked as a general matter if they had information about his whereabouts and, if so, what was his condition and if they could assist us in putting him in contact with his friends and family and if he desired to leave to assist him in leaving Iran.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I just return briefly, Sean, to the hostage issue. Do you have any general assessment of the tactics that the Iranians used? For example, Larijani apparently contacted channel four news himself. He wanted to give that interview. The interview apparently encouraged the British to tone things down a bit with their rhetoric. And do you think that this was a split between him and the President or do you think this was a carefully orchestrated PR exercise? Any idea -- any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't have an assessment for you. To do that we'd have to -- we'd have to understand that the decision-making processes within the Iranian Government. Quite frankly, we don't have a great deal of insight to that. It's an opaque regime. There did appear to have been in the early days of this crisis a number of conflicting statements that came out and it seemed as thought they were able to stick to one line. What that means, I can't tell you. I don't know. But at the moment, regardless of all of that, we will be very pleased to see these Marines returned and the incident, you know, in everybody's rearview mirror.

QUESTION: Are you encouraged by Larijani's methods? Do you think he's someone that you could do business with?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's an offer to negotiate presumably with Mr. Larijani, if the Iranians would suspend their enrichment and reprocessing. So presumably, he would be the interlocutor. He is the person with whom Mr. Solana from the P-5+1 usually talks. So he is quite clearly somebody that the Iranians have some degree of trust in as a negotiator. And if that's their designated negotiator, then so be it. He would be sitting around the table with us. But we all know what the preconditions for that are.

Yeah. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: The Governor of New Mexico, Mr. Bill Richardson will visit North Korea this weekend.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Can you tell us the purpose of his visit?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I understand it, this is about repatriation of remains of one or more American soldiers. And there was an approach from the North Korean Government to Governor Richardson and he consulted with the State Department, consulted with the White House about this potential mission. The White House and the State Department decided that the mission should go forward and that there should be some other representation. Former Veterans Affairs Secretary Principi will be on the trip as well as other individuals, one from the NSC, I know, maybe some from DOD and potentially somebody from the State Department, but those people would be at the working level. They'd be in support roles. They wouldn't be principals in any sort of delegation.

QUESTION: Is he a special envoy for the --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, he doesn't have any officially designated status beyond his being Governor of New Mexico and having a prior relationship with members of the North Korean Government.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: China is saying it doesn't think that North Korea is going to meet the mid-April deadline to close down the reactor. Are you still optimistic that all of the obligations are going to be met and that it will be closed down in time and that things are still on track?

MR. MCCORMACK: We think that things are still on track in the sense that there is certainly good faith on all sides to work through any obstacles that have presented themselves. The BDA issue, I think, has been more complex in its implementation than anybody from any of the six parties could have imagined. We have people on the ground, the Treasury delegation is working with Chinese officials. They have also been in touch with North Korean officials to try to work through the execution of that agreement.

From our standpoint, we believe that we have acted in good faith in issuing the Treasury Department rule, which brought to an end the investigation phase of the BDA issue. We have fulfilled -- in doing so, fulfilled our legal requirements. Then it became a matter of execution of the United States action and finding a way to, within the confines of Chinese as well as international banking regulations, return those funds.

As for the shutdown of the reactor and other obligations that exist under the February 13th agreement, we believe that all parties should still be able to meet their obligations. We would hope that all the parties, including the North Koreans, would still have a commitment to meet those obligations as they were outlined under the agreement. But this is also a process in which it is designed to have good faith actions met in turn by good faith and to, in doing so, to help build up confidence among all the members of the six parties.

And to date, I think that that has been achieved. There has been a greater degree of confidence that has been built up. Now that's a -- those are just initial steps and more has to be done, but we are confident that we will be able to -- we as well as the other six parties will be able to fulfill all those obligations --

QUESTION: But have the Chinese --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- other five parties -- and not only complete the implementation of the February 13th agreement, but also to move on to the next phase of it.

QUESTION: But have the Chinese contacted you to say that they're a little nervous that the deadline may not be met? And if the deadline isn't met, then does that kind of scuffle what else is coming up to that or the understanding --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if there's been any formal approach. I'm sure there's contact all the time between Chris Hill and his envoy and counterpart, so I don't know if he's talked to Wu Dawei or not about this. Certainly, they're signaling where they think the process is with some of their public comments, but as I said before, it is important to work as hard as we can to implement the agreement as written, but more generally, it is also important to keep the process moving forward as best we can to surmount any obstacles that are presented to us -- unexpected obstacles, as in the case of implementation of the BDA agreement -- and to work through those in a cooperative manner and to maintain that spirit of cooperation and, again, to continue to build up that trust among all the six parties.

QUESTION: So do you just see this as part of the ups and downs of international diplomacy, whatever?

MR. MCCORMACK: Every -- you know, in international diplomacy, no matter how carefully you plan and how much attention you pay to detail, there are always unexpected circumstances. And the trick then is to adapt and to overcome, and that is what we're doing now.

QUESTION: And to adapt, would you be ready to extend the period before --

MR. MCCORMACK: We're not at that point, Sylvie. We still have some time left before the 60 days is up and we still believe that it is possible for all the parties to meet the obligations under the February 13th agreement as it currently stands.

QUESTION: Sean, just back to the Governor's trip. The White House statement announcing it yesterday, your comments just now, talk about this trip as being solely about the repatriation of remains. The Governor's office though seemed to give a little bit -- in its statement was a little bit broader or gave the trip a little bit more of a broad focus, to include the -- what's going on with the six-party talks. Does the Administration see this trip as purely, solely, only about repatriation, or could it -- or would you hope that it could be used as part of this goodwill building on the nuclear issue.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I don't think we see any connection with the six-party talks per se. He's not going there as an envoy of the United States or he's not going there as a representative of the United States in any aspect of the six-party talks.

QUESTION: Well, but as you are aware and as you have been also aware in a similar case that's going on, a similar thing -- event that's going on right now, often foreign governments see visitors, high-profile visitors from the U.S. as being more -- perhaps more than what the Administration sees them as.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: So would you object to the Governor bringing up six-party issues while he's there and while he's seeing North Korean officials?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't expect that he would -- that he would bring those up. That's not in his writ, if you will. He has a lot of experience dealing with the North Koreans. This goes back many, many years. And he has actually consulted with the State Department as well as the White House on this trip.

The (inaudible) focus of it is on this MIA issue and getting back the remains of these missing soldiers, which I think everybody can agree is very positive.

QUESTION: Have you told them not bring up any of the issues?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- I'm not sure that we have had that conversation with Governor Richardson, but I think that he understands the channel of the six-party talks is really limited to Chris Hill and his delegation in consultation with the President and Secretary Rice --

QUESTION: Have you seen the statement that his office put out?

MR. MCCORMACK: -- and that this is a separate channel. I'm not going to try to dictate what his office puts out, but --

QUESTION: No, I'm asking have you seen it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I haven't -- I haven't read it, Matt, no.

QUESTION: Do you know when the request or the invitation to him was first received --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't, no.

QUESTION: -- and how long it took the White House to actually agree to it?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know when it was first received. I don't think there was any significant debate about this. I think the whole decision-making process moved relatively quickly, as far as I know.

QUESTION: And on the --

MR. MCCORMACK: And in terms of not seeing the statement, Matt, I mean, I don't really need to see the statement. I know what our conversations have been with Governor Richardson.

QUESTION: Well, just so you know, the statement does include a sentence which talks about the six-party talks and the nuclear --

MR. MCCORMACK: I understand, I understand. And I would just reinforce to everybody that he is not going there as an envoy or representative -- envoy with respect to the six-party talks.

QUESTION: And just back to the repatriation issue, are these remains, to your knowledge, that have previously been known about or are these recently recovered?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I don't know. There was an ongoing effort that DOD had with the North Koreans and then they stopped that effort, I think back in 2005 or 2006, based on their assessment of the ability of the team to do their work in the manner in which they thought they should be able to perform it. So there has been some ongoing cooperation in this regard and some work previously done on this. I don't know if this is something that grew out of those efforts or this is something completely new generated by the South Korean -- by the North Koreans themselves.

QUESTION: He's going there I think from the 8th to the 11th and this is right on the eve of the expiration of the 60-day period.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: I mean, would it violate some sort of understanding you had with him if he happened to discuss -- ask questions in connection with the six-party process and the expiration date?

MR. MCCORMACK: George, you know, we're working with him in the context of his going there on this particular mission. You know, we're not dictating to him what it is that he says. I think he does have an understanding of what the mission is and what it isn't.

QUESTION: Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just one (inaudible). There's 11 days left until the deadline and including the weekends. Is it really -- do you realistically think that there is enough time to solve the BDA issue, to accomplish the transfer, to have another plenary session with the heads of delegation, to close Yongbyon and for the ministerial to take place a few days after the deadline? I mean, is that really something that could be done in the next --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the date for the ministerial-level meeting hasn't been set.

QUESTION: Right. But it's --

MR. MCCORMACK: It would be some period after the 60-day deadline is met.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR. MCCORMACK: We think that if all the parties apply themselves, then they should be able to do those things and that is the basis upon which we're working. We've had a Treasury team there for going on ten days or so. So that is certainly a signal of our commitment to doing everything that we possibly can to work with the parties to make sure the agreement gets implemented. And we would just ask that all the other parties to the six parties share that same level of dedication and good faith. And if they are -- if they do so, then certainly there is the opportunity to meet the deadlines as they are outlined in the February 13th agreement.

QUESTION: But I thought the fact that the Treasury delegation's been there for such a long time is an indication that it's run into some real serious complications.

MR. MCCORMACK: It's an indication that international banking regulations and Chinese domestic banking regulations are very complex. I think that's what it is an indication of and that this isn't one of these things where you wave a wand and it's done. You have to slog through this stuff. We have experts that are over there now and all I can say is I'm glad they do that for a living and not me.

QUESTION: Sean, (inaudible) has the U.S. been advised by Jordan's King Abdullah against normalizing ties against Syria? Jordanian officials have said that the King advised the U.S. against normalizing ties with Damascus.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have diplomatic relations with Syria. We just have them at a lower level now that our Ambassador has left. We are represented at the charg level. Certainly, we always value the input of King Abdullah. But on our own volition, I don't think we have any intention of raising that level of diplomatic representation at the current moment.

QUESTION: Okay. He -- because the Jordanians and the U.S., of course, they're close allies. But to what extent would the Jordanian King saying this -- do you see Syria destabilizing the region?

MR. MCCORMACK: Syria destabilizing the region?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've -- I don't think it's any secret that we have -- we as well as others have real problems with their behavior in the region and the fact that that behavior is destabilizing to the region. Whether or not that is allowing people fighting the Iraqi Government to transit their territory or allowing financiers of those efforts to remain in Syria or whether it is hosting Palestinian rejectionist groups in Damascus or really refusing to accept the reality of Lebanon as an independent state. Those are all unhelpful, at the very least, behaviors, if not destabilizing. So I don't think it's any secret that -- about our views regarding Syria's behavior.

QUESTION: Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Did you see anything new in President Assad's remarks today to Speaker Pelosi, any change in attitude or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I -- frankly --

QUESTION: -- as reported in the media.

MR. MCCORMACK: I -- frankly, I haven't seen all of his remarks. I did see some newspaper headlines hailing the visit of Speaker Pelosi there as a signal of the fact that Syria enjoys a normal relationship with the rest of the outside world, which is, in fact, not the case.

QUESTION: Sean, on the report that the Embassy there would have a note taker or some official even, in a meeting with President Assad. Have you -- do you know if they -- that person, whoever it was, or those people have reported back to --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if they have. Typically what they do in these sorts of meetings, there's a cable that is generated that's sent back here to Washington and typically the congressional delegation has a chance to --

QUESTION: I look for that in my e-mail, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. We'll forward it to you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely. Look for it on the classified system, Matt. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Sean, House Speaker Pelosi has delivered a message from Israel to President Assad saying that Israel is ready for peace with Syria and President Assad has answered that he's ready for peace, too. Do you think it's time for --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they -- if you check with the Israeli Government, they will tell you that there's been no change in policy, that Prime Minister Olmert and Speaker Pelosi had the discussion about the current situation, but there's been no change in Israeli policy with respect to Syria and peace negotiations.

QUESTION: And what about the message?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware that there was a message.

QUESTION: She said that she delivered this message.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll refer you over to the Israeli Government as to whether or not there was any message passed.

QUESTION: Yeah. Excuse me, a follow-up on this.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Syrian Foreign Minister has described Pelosi's visit to Syria and said that it was excellent and historical visit. And Syria will keep in touch with the Congress through the Syrian Ambassador in Washington. Do you have any comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've made our views known on Speaker Pelosi's visit as well as visit of other congressional delegations to Damascus. They are the Legislative Branch of government and certainly they do have a number of different foreign contacts. The Administration is responsible for the execution of foreign policy on behalf of the American people, but there are these foreign contacts which in many cases we do encourage. In this case, we didn't. As for any continuing contacts between any member of the Legislative Branch and the Syrian Ambassador, that's going to be up to them.

QUESTION: Yeah, still on this, Sean. The visit engendered very strong words from the President yesterday. What do you make of this visit? Do you think it's circumventing current U.S. foreign policy? Do you refute it completely this visit? Do you -- what do you think of it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, we've made it clear that we thought the visit was ill-timed. And we have said that to a number of congressional delegations that either had intentions of traveling there or did travel there. We just didn't think it was the right time for a lot of different reasons, which we have explained. They essentially use these kinds of high-level visits as a way to drive the perception that Syria has no problems with any of its neighbors or countries in the international system. The Brits have gone there, the Spanish have gone there, other delegations have gone there and every single time it's the same pattern. They try to use it to say: "Look, no problem here." No problem with the fact that we're supporting rejectionist groups in the Palestinian areas or seeking to destabilize Lebanon or Iraq. And we think that those kinds of high-level visits just send the wrong message.

QUESTION: You're saying you've offered this similar -- discouraging -- advice discouraging visits to people from other governments?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, to other congressional delegations.

QUESTION: I know, but you jut said that -- I just want to make sure you -- the State Department hasn't gone to the Brits or the EU and said, we don't think you -- you shouldn't go. This is --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, those are their decisions. Obviously --

QUESTION: But have you made the same recommendations --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- we offer -- obviously, we offer them counsel, but that's not something that I'm going to share in public. We offer that counsel in private.

QUESTION: Sean, how did the process work, though? Did she approach you for advice or did you -- as soon as you heard about the visit, you directly told her that she shouldn't be going? How does it work?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you exactly how this -- how it works. There were some staff- level contacts. Typically when congressional delegations do make plans for a visit, they do have to work with the Administration in terms of arranging the logistics and, you know, mundane things like getting country clearance from the embassy. So there is a necessary level of work that needs to be done before any foreign travel by official visitors from the government, whether that's in the Executive Branch or the Legislative Branch. I can't tell you exactly when those contacts were initiated. But of course, when we learned of the intentions of a visit, we huddled, thought about whether or not that it was in fact a good idea, whether or not this -- our position had changed from previous such proposed visits, and at that point we initiated staff-level contacts.

And when it became clear that Speaker Pelosi intended to move forward with her visit, then we offered up the briefing about where we stand in our policy vis--vis Syria and how we saw events in the region. Jim Jeffrey, our number two guy in the Near East Bureau, Middle East bureau, went up to Capitol Hill and I think he was actually briefing Speaker Pelosi herself as well as other members of the delegation and their staffs.

QUESTION: You said that --

QUESTION: Jim Jeffrey was going to ask Pelosi to deliver a tough message to --

MR. MCCORMACK: That's our advice. That was our advice.

QUESTION: From all reports, it doesn't seem like she's delivered it.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let her speak for herself as to what she conveyed to President Assad. But that is our advice: If you intend to go forward with this visit and you're determined to do so, deliver a tough message to Syria about the need for them to change their behavior.

QUESTION: Actually, Speaker Pelosi did in her message strongly urge Syria not to allow fighters to cross over into Iraq. She also delivered a strong message on Hamas and Hezbollah. Do you think somehow that message will be lost with all the hoopla over her visit or do you think that that was still an important message that she delivered?

MR. MCCORMACK: If the question is whether or not the trip was worth delivering that message in person, I guess our assessment is no. You know, again, you can -- it's important if you make the threshold decision that you deliver that tough message, but the use that the Syrian Government makes of such high-level visits we think is -- far outweighs any potential benefit one might derive from delivering such a message in person.

They full well understand what it is that they need to do. We ourselves in the Executive Branch have delivered that message previously with Deputy Secretary Armitage, who many of you -- former Deputy Secretary Armitage, who many of you know and is a plainspoken fellow -- direct, shall we say. So if they didn't get the message from him about how they need to change their behavior, I don't know who else is going to be able to convey it more succinctly and directly.

Nicholas.

QUESTION: Sean, are you -- do you know of any congressional delegations who might have been dissuade by -- dissuaded by the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Anybody who canceled their trips?

QUESTION: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I'm not sure. I don't have a full list of them. But there have been several. Senator Nelson went, along with Senator Specter. Senator Kerry went. So, yeah, there have been a number of them and we have tried to dissuade all of them from going.

Joel, what are you doing way back there?

QUESTION: I'm back here. Question. Conversely, do you think that -- and you just mentioned North Korea with Bill Richardson's trip.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Conversely, do you think that there were perhaps an invite directly to Speaker Pelosi because she knew it would annoy your particular tactics and your thoughts regarding the regime? Of course, you had John Bolton at the UN for two years, very outspoken.

MR. MCCORMACK: You'll have to ask Speaker Pelosi or her staff about her motivations in taking the trip to Syria, Joel.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Sean, I understand -- I have reason to believe that there may have been yet another visit, consular visit, to the American citizen detained in -- held in Ethiopia.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Today.

QUESTION: Today. Do you have any information to share with us about --

MR. MCCORMACK: There was -- I know that it happened today and that the report is he's still in good shape. No mistreatment. We are passing a message to his family on his behalf. He asked the consular officer to do that. This is, just for the record, our third visit to Mr. Meshal. We saw him previously on March 21st and March 30th.

QUESTION: And --

MR. MCCORMACK: And that's -- and his hearing is still scheduled for April 14th.

QUESTION: Okay. And you -- do you have any reason to be optimistic that he might be released?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, at this point, what we would like to see is that any judicial process that may be underway be done strictly in accordance with the law, that he have his full rights, that it be done in a transparent manner, and that whatever his disposition within the Ethiopian justice system is that that happen quickly.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you know if the Ambassador or anyone else in the Embassy has made such representations to the senior leadership, Ethiopian leadership, other than the Ambassador's one meeting that we -- the meeting that we know about with Prime Minister Meles?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I know Don Yamamoto has gone in there. I don't know if he's gone in there again. I know he did that at least once.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:20 p.m.)

DPB # 59


Released on April 4, 2007



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