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Military

Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 5, 2007

INDEX:

IRAN
Whereabouts of Missing American Citizen / Iranians Looking into Matter
U.S. Concerns and Responsibilities Regarding Americans Abroad
No Lines Drawn Between Missing Person and Geopolitics
U.S. Assessment of Iran in the Release of UK Detainees / Individuals Unjustly Seized
Iran Behaving Outside Accepted Norms of International Behavior / Hostage Taking
Iran's Actions Precipitated Crisis / Pathway Open to Iranian Regime for Negotiations
Iranian Regime is Very Opaque / Iran's Ability to Change Behavior
President Ahmadi-Nejad's Possible Involvement in 1979 Hostage Crisis / Kathryn Koob
Americans Traveling to Iran
Request by Iran for Access to Five Individuals Held by MNFI / IRCR Access
DEPARTMENT
Secretary Rice Meeting with ICRC / ICRC's Activity in Darfur and U.S. Appreciation
Amnesty International Report on Conditions at GITMO KOSOVO
U.S. Support for Ahtisaari Plan / Important to Work with Security Council
SAUDI ARABIA/ISRAEL
U.S. Working with Saudi Arabia on Defensive Needs / A Subject of Discussion with Congress
Israel's Qualitative Military Advantage
Weapons Sold to Israel Done in Accordance to U.S. Laws and Regulations
SYRIA
House Speaker Pelosi's Travel to Syria / No Readout on Meeting with President Assad
Executive Branch Responsible for Foreign Policy
MIDDLE EAST
Middle East Peace Process / Secretary Rice Carries Out the President's Policies
SUDAN
Deputy Secretary Negroponte's Travel / Sudan / Chad / Libya / Mauritania
Focus on Trip is Darfur and Ongoing Efforts for Peace / AU-UN Hybrid Package
Sanctions Under Active Consideration / U. S. Encouraging Sudan to Change Behavior
U.S. Encouraging the Libyan Government to Play a Positive Role in Crisis


TRANSCRIPT:

12:35 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. No opening statements, so we can get right to your questions. Who wants to start?

QUESTION: Reports on the detention somewhere of Mr. Levinson? Do you have anything on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: No updates beyond this. We -- the - if you remember yesterday, the Iranians asked for some additional information: when did he arrive, via what mode, what airline flight, et cetera, et cetera, basic travel information of that sort. We got back to them, provided that information to them today and the Iranians got back to the Swiss and said that they would look into the matter.

QUESTION: So that's it?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's where we stand. Yeah, we don't have any updates. We have no updates about his welfare and whereabouts.

QUESTION: Do you -- you're still looking for his welfare and whereabouts, but do you have any idea at -- I mean, it's pretty unusual for an American citizen to go missing for over three weeks. I mean, do you have any kind of hypothesis or any kind of idea what's happened to this guy, any suspicion? There's a difference between hard evidence I know, but any suspicions that he's being held by the Iranians?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we have to deal with the facts. And at the moment, we don't have any hard facts. We don't have any reliable information as to where he is or his condition. We're making every effort to determine the answers to those questions as evidenced by the fact that we went into the Iranians via the Swiss and are willing to provide all the information that we think is legitimate in trying to help find out where he is.

QUESTION: Does the idea that an American citizen has gone in Iran and is missing for three weeks given all the other issues that are -- and the tension that's going on between the U.S. and Iran right now? Does that give you kind of extra concern that as opposed to an American citizen that would be missing in a friendly -- so-called friendly country?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, anytime you have somebody who -- you know, not reporting in as they were supposed to with their family or their loved ones or their friends, that is something automatically that concerns us because we want to do everything we can to ensure that American citizens overseas are safe. And we want to do everything we can to help them, if they are ever in distress and that is one of our primary responsibilities as the Department of State.

I'm not going to try to draw a connection between this case and anything else, any other ongoing connections, just because we don't have any solid facts in this regard. And I think it would really be irresponsible to start drawing conclusions based on fragmentary information or speculative information, people hypothesizing about what may have happened.

QUESTION: Well, that sounds like you're implying that there is fragmentary information or information out there that you perhaps may not consider 100 percent reliable. Is there such information out there that you are going through in trying to figure out --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll give you one example. There was a --

QUESTION: In this case.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I know. And let me give you an example on this case. There was an English language version of an Iranian print report that speculated about -- that he had been detained by Iranian security services upon -- shortly after his arrival there. That is purely speculative. We can't attribute any degree of validity to the report, so that's an example of a piece of fragmentary information that's out there that we can't vouch for. So when I say there isn't any reliable information, that's -- you know, reliable information I would consider -- you would have to consider the source and how it comports with the facts as we understand it with what he was doing. A variety of different factors go into it.

QUESTION: Is there any other -- has there been anything else along those lines that you're aware of that you're not yet --

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, Matt, there's nothing -- nothing reliable that we would -- nothing that we would consider reliable at this point.

QUESTION: And as far as you know, no official response other than -- from the Iranians except to say we'll -- we're looking into it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Yeah, exactly.

QUESTION: But now just getting back to Elise's question --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: I mean, I appreciate the fact that you're concerned about Americans who go abroad anywhere, but surely there's a difference between someone going missing in Iran and someone going missing in Canada in terms of what you might worry about.

MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't --

QUESTION: Yes?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I wouldn't necessarily attribute it to that. I mean, you could have somebody who is -- you know, to follow your example, missing in the wilds of Canada and that would be a great deal of source of concern depending on weather conditions, all sorts of other things. It gets down to the specific circumstances.

QUESTION: Yeah, but given the hostility --

MR. MCCORMACK: Look --

QUESTION: -- of the government --

MR. MCCORMACK: Look --

QUESTION: -- or Iran towards --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- the United States --

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you're getting -- you're going down the road of speculating as to where he is, what might have happened to him. We just don't know at this point.

Look, Americans travel to Iran. It's not as though this is unprecedented. And by all reports, the Americans are actually well received by the Iranian people, so there wouldn't seem to be any -- any particular threat posed just by the fact of Americans traveling to Iran and in terms of their interactions with the Iranian people. You know, I'm not going to try to draw any -- any lines between this person who's missing and anything else geopolitics that's going on between the United States and Iran, and Iran and other countries.

QUESTION: So the circumstances -- the geopolitical circumstances of the relationship or non-relationship between the United States and Iran doesn't play into this at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of our actions, no. In terms of our actions -- in terms of our --

QUESTION: Not actions. In terms of the -- in terms of the concern that you may or may not have for this guy's welfare.

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, you know, I know you've tried to go down this line a couple of -- for the past couple of days about, you know, concern -- is there increasing concern on the part of the American people, and I certainly appreciate your interest in trying to pursue that storyline. Our actions are based on the fact that any time there is an American citizen, wherever he or she may be around the world, and his or her loved ones are concerned about his status, they haven't heard from him, he may be missing, we're concerned. And we're going to do everything that we possibly can to try to help out that American citizen to determine his or her welfare and whereabouts, and once that's done to help them get out of the country or assist them in any way that we possibly can.

QUESTION: Well, I understand, but I mean, there is surely someone in this building must recognize the difference between someone going missing in Iran or someone going missing in North Korea or another country with which you do not have diplomatic relations, and someone going missing in Luxembourg.

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, it gets to the specific circumstances. I know you want to sort of channel the story into a -- down a certain pathway here and, you know, I certainly appreciate that. You know, from your perspective you want to sort of advance the story. I know you have to write stories every single day. But you know, I'm trying to convey to you the fact that although there may be -- there may be less travel, for example, in Iran by American citizens than in Luxembourg, any time you have an American citizen who's missing it's a source of concern.

QUESTION: Okay, point taken.

QUESTION: You have made clear that this guy was there on private business, but in your talking to -- trying to piece together what happened to the guy, do you have any indication that he perhaps was doing something there that he shouldn't have been doing; that while it was private business, it could have been something dangerous or risky that could have gotten him in trouble?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't think -- I don't think I could say that, Elise.

Jonathan.

QUESTION: Now that the Brits -- these British marines and sailors are back in Britain, do you feel freer to give us an assessment of how Iran behaved in this whole affair?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I guess I would give the same assessment today as I would have while they were being held, and that is that these are individuals that were unjustly seized. They were operating in Iraqi waters under a Security Council mandate.

You know, what does this episode indicate about Iran? Well, I think it's probably difficult to actually deduce any sort of lessons from Iranian behavior other than to say this is a regime that continues to behave in ways that are clearly outside the accepted norm of international behavior. This is clearly a regime that, after several decades, continues to view hostage-taking as a tool of its international diplomacy. Beyond that, I don't know what other lessons I would draw from the incident.

QUESTION: Well, are you maintaining that this is -- this incident aside, I mean, that this is a tactic that the Iranian Government continues to use? I mean, I know you said that the -- you maintain and the British maintain that they were in Iraqi, not Iranian waters. But they specifically related it to the idea that the British were repeatedly making incursions into their territory. So do you see it as an incident of dispute of that particular fact or are you saying that the Iranians have a tactic of hostage-taking as policy --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well --

QUESTION: -- regularly?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let's go back 30 years. Let's look at seizing hostages from the American embassy. Let's look at twice within the past three years, seizing hostages from the UK. There are three examples right there, very clearly, that show a pattern of behavior over an extended period of time.

And you -- and two points; one, the British clearly established that their sailors and marines were operating in Iraqi territorial waters. The disputes of those facts by Iran notwithstanding, I don't hear anybody else disputing the evidence presented by the U.K. Second, you talk about the fact, well, this is as a result -- the Iranians say that this is as a result of "repeated incursions into Iranian territorial waters." And I take that on faith that they actually said that.

Normally, what a country would do is if this, in fact, had happened, they would pick up the phone or send a diplomatic note. That is typically what countries do in cases such as this, if there are any particular difficulties. If -- you know, and Britain and Iran have diplomatic relations, so that's a pretty easy thing to do. But the reaction of the Iranian regime instead was to seize hostages and keep them for 10 days. In my interpretation of how the rest of the world behaves, that is outside the accepted norm of international behavior.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sean, do you see this -- blackmail by the Iranian President because he knew from the beginning to end this drama which he played the role and terrorizing the innocent people and hold them hostages and then negotiate. So where does this leader, going back again since '79 and they're continuing and blackmailing, then we keep -- the international community keep negotiating and they're terrorists.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think I pointed out that we believe that the behavior of this regime is outside the accepted international behaviors.

QUESTION: Another subject?

QUESTION: The international community --

MR. MCCORMACK: Whoa --

QUESTION: But, Sean, international --

MR. MCCORMACK: Hold on, Goyal. Yes.

QUESTION: I believe it's the first time I hear you calling them hostages. Do you consider they were hostages?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the President referred to them as hostages. Yeah.

QUESTION: On a similar subject. The five Iranians, can you tell us any more as to whether they're going to get --

QUESTION: Can we stay on this for a while?

QUESTION: Can we stay on the sailors, on the incident before we go to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. I promise you I'll come back.

QUESTION: Sean, earlier you spoke of -- and I'd like you to elaborate if you can, on what it says about Iran's ability to change its own mind.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you talk about that and whether you see that -- or see the fact that they did that in this case as a possible opening to change their mind on other things?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. The question earlier is whether or not their decision to release these sailors and marines indicated any -- if you could extrapolate out to any other kinds of change of behavior by the Iranians. You know, I certainly can't draw any particular lessons from this, Charlie. To do so would require some insight into the calculations made by the regime as to why they chose at this point, in this manner, to release these people that they were holding after keeping them for ten days.

I would just point out the fact that it was Iranian actions that precipitated this crisis. It was Iranian actions in unjustly -- illegally seizing these sailors and marines that precipitated all this. So while we are quite pleased and very happy for the British people, for the sailors and marines and their families that they've been returned, returned home to their loved ones, to their families, to their unit, I'm not going to try to draw any particular lessons from the fact that the Iranians suddenly decided to release them.

There is a pathway that is open to the Iranian regime for negotiations to address a variety of different subjects that are of concern to them in a negotiating forum. They can sit across from the American Secretary of State. They can sit across from the UK Foreign Secretary and Foreign Ministers from other countries. All they need to do is suspend uranium enrichment. That is not the United States condition; it is the world's condition. So should they choose to do so that pathway is open to them, but we -- neither we nor anybody else want to further isolate the Iranian regime. That is a condition that they are bringing upon themselves. So while it is certainly possible that you are seeing a change in the calculus of the Iranian regime regarding their behavior in the international system, thus far we have not seen any substantial indication of that.

QUESTION: Sean, do you think that the way the process has played out that again there could be some schism in the Iranian Government or could we see the Supreme Leader putting a stamp on this? Can you give me a sense of your assessment of that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, it's -- in these kind of regimes that are very opaque, it's very difficult to discern exactly what the calculations are and what the relationships are among the various important players at the upper levels of the regime. We just don't know.

We have seen indications of differences of opinion on the nuclear issue that have been played out in the Iranian press as well as the international press. But on this particular issue, I haven't seen any real indications of that.

QUESTION: Does it cause any optimism for you? I mean, this morning you were saying that Iran could change its behavior in various ways?

MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely. I think the very fact that they made the decision after ten-plus days to release these individuals is an indication that tomorrow they could decide to suspend uranium enrichment and have negotiations with the rest of the world. They could decide tomorrow not to provide the deadly materiels and personnel that are threatening U.S. troops as well as British troops. They could decide tomorrow not to support Hezbollah and attempt to destabilize Lebanese politics. They could decide tomorrow not to support Palestinian rejectionist groups. They could decide tomorrow not to abuse their own people. So they could decide tomorrow to do all of those things and I guess the one lesson I might take from all of this is that it is in -- well within their capabilities to take those kinds of decisions. But thus far, we haven't seen any indication that they're willing to do so.

Yeah, Matt --

QUESTION: Can I ask one last question on this? I'm sorry. We have an interview with -- this is going back to 1979, one of the remaining hostages from that time, they're saying that there was -- you know, there was an investigation that -- this is -- Kathryn Koob is the individual and she was interviewed by the State Department by phone, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- it never went anywhere. Can you confirm that that interview took place? This was -- sorry, to clarify, this is about Ahmadi-Nejad having --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, his involvement, yes.

QUESTION: -- the thought that he was involved in this -- in the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. There was an effort by the U.S. Government to get in contact with former hostages to determine whether or not President Ahmadi-Nejad was, in fact, one of the hostage-takers or one of the people that was involved in questioning them or, in any way, involved with that whole incident. There were conflicting reports. Some reports back were that this wasn't the individual, some were quite certain that he was involved. We have, at this point, based on our analysis, not been able to make a conclusion one way or the other about that. So it remains for us, as the U.S. Government, an open question.

QUESTION: Yeah, but Sean -- but doesn't the investigation date back to when he was first elected or just before when he was a candidate? Is this something particularly new?

MR. MCCORMACK: It was -- no, it's not new. This is something that happened within the past couple years. It was after his election as president that it came out.

QUESTION: Can I just -- over the past couple of days, this is when this was still a problem for the release, you were -- refused to draw any historical conclusions or make any historical references to either the '79 incident or to even the -- just noting that the other -- it happened once before with British sailors. Today, you say that this is indication that the Iranian regime continues to consider hostage-taking as a tool of diplomacy.

Was there a calculation made -- and I might say that you probably could have said that at any time during this, was there a calculation made that saying this, which you could have said before, would -- while the sailors were still being held would be a bad thing that could affect the situation negatively?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, a couple things. One, of course; in the context of an ongoing hostage crisis, of course, we are not going to say anything that could make the situation worse or make it more difficult to realize a peaceful solution to the crisis. Absolutely, we're going to tailor or rhetoric, yes.

In this case, though, it comes up in the context of, well, what are the lessons learned. See, these are all the questions that I'm getting at now; well, what do we make of all this. And I was making the point, well, here's one lesson that you can draw from this, because there seems to be sort of a push for this idea that somehow, this is an indication of a change of heart of -- on the Iranian regime about a variety of different behaviors. We don't know.

I would just make a historical point that we have seen this pattern over the course of a number of different years and thus far, they haven't changed their behavior. This is a pattern of behavior that goes back some time for this regime.

QUESTION: Well, then obviously, then a calculation has been made, then, as well or -- tell me if the calculation has been made that saying this now is not, in any way, going to effect the status or the -- of the American who is missing there. Is this a sign that you really don't think he's being held or that the Iranian Government is really, in good faith, trying to go out and find this guy and get the information to --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, it's not meant to indicate that we know one way or the other what is -- you know, where he is or what's happened to him. We don't know. It doesn't -- the information that we have, as I said, doesn't indicate one way or the other whether or not the Iranians have him. So I'm not trying to indicate that they do or that they don't.

QUESTION: No, no, I'm just wondering as to -- you know, if you are concerned about this guy, he’s missing and you're ready to say that the British incident shows that this is a continuing pattern of hostage-taking as a tool of diplomacy and you made a deliberate decision not to say something like that while the Brits were in custody, if you're not concerned, then, that this might affect -- might affect whatever has happened to the American.

MR. MCCORMACK: No. The Iranian Government has come out and said quite clearly that they are willing to assist us in determining his whereabouts and that they don't know where he is and they're going to work and try to determine where exactly he is.

QUESTION: And you're taking that on good faith? I mean, you don't think that they do know where he is and they're not telling you, just like you picked up five of their detainees and didn't tell them for a while?

MR. MCCORMACK: I --

QUESTION: Did you tell --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know exactly the -- if there was any delta between the operation and when it became known that these people were picked up. I don't think there was much --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, isn't it true that they were in custody --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think there was much -- I don't think that there was much of one at all. I think, as a matter of fact, it broke in the news within hours of the operation. So I don't think that there's any mystery as to what happened there.

What was the -- what was the other question?

QUESTION: Well, then are you taking it on -- do you trust the Iranians as much as you can trust -- as this government feels it can trust the Iranians, that when they say that they don't know where he is, that they really don't know where he is?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, at this point, we -- at this point, we don't know. We don't have a choice but to go to the Iranian Government at this point to ask them to look into the matter.

QUESTION: Sean, one more quick one, please.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: British are angry, Americans are angry, global community is angry. What message you think you have ready for them that this kind of behavior by the Iranians or this kind of drama will not take place again ever?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I --

QUESTION: Or U.S. or international community will take very strong action. Because they're supporting terrorism.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I think we all know they're state sponsors of terrorism.

QUESTION: Can we get back -- sorry, can we just get back -- are you on the same subject?

QUESTION: Same subject. In Lebanon and Libya over the previous generation or so, conditions were considered to be so dangerous that Americans were forbidden from traveling to those countries.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Now, you talked about the pattern of behavior in Iran.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there any thought being given to restricting the rights -- the right of Americans to travel to Iran?

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

QUESTION: Back to the five Iranians' consular access. Can you tell us anything on that? And also, can you tell us whether -- in fact, could you give us a readout of the Secretary of State's meeting with the Red Cross? Anything that you can tell us about that meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not --

QUESTION: The issues raised, for example.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I wasn't in the meeting. Typically, the conversations with the ICRC, at whatever level they take place, are private. The one thing I do know is they talked a little bit about Darfur. I know the ICRC is involved in activities there and certainly the Secretary expressed her appreciation for the ICRC's efforts there to alleve the great humanitarian suffering ongoing.

As for the five Iranians -- Iranian operatives that are being held by multinational forces in Iraq, not much of an update for you. There was -- there has been a request by the Iranian Government via the Iraqis for access to them. That is being -- that is under active consideration by the U.S. Government. DOD is the ultimate decision maker on this, but of course we consult with the Department of Defense. They are --

QUESTION: DOD, not the Iraqi Government, is the ultimate decision maker as to whether they get consular access?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's correct. They're being held by the multinational forces that are operating pursuant to the Security Council resolutions which allows them to take actions to see that the forces are protected from any threats. In this case, these individuals were associated with networks that were providing material support for the kinds of -- constructing the kinds of explosive devices that pose a real -- that pose a very deadly threat to our troops. So they were picked up as part of those operations to try to break up those networks.

They're being -- they're being held pursuant to that Security Council resolution, and also in accordance with Iraqi law, which does have some -- allow for some provisions of the Geneva Convention in the law. They are -- there's a regular review of their status as well as granting of access by the ICRC. And there was -- there has been apparently ICRC access to these five security detainees.

QUESTION: Change of topic?

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Just on that -- well, Kellenberger --

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I don't -- there's nothing --

QUESTION: The only thing you know about it that came up is Darfur? Guantanamo Bay didn't come up at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, like I said, I wasn't -- I wasn't in the meeting and we typically do not, regardless of the level of interaction with the ICRC, give readouts of those conversations.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, why is it you can talk about Darfur but you can't say --

MR. MCCORMACK: Because the Secretary was thanking them for the ICRC's efforts there. I don't consider that really a substantive matter. It's thanking them for what they're doing in Darfur.

QUESTION: Okay. You don't consider Darfur a substantive matter? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: No, that's not -- that's not it, Matt. You know that's twisting what I said.

QUESTION: Is it fair to assume or would you assume that the subject of detainees and access to them, wherever they might be in U.S. custody, came up?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to assume things about the Secretary's conversation.

QUESTION: I mean, there is -- there is an Amnesty report out, isn't there today, which says the conditions in the new facility at Guantanamo is even worse. So --

MR. MCCORMACK: Amnesty International?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen it.

Yes, Lambros.

QUESTION: On the Balkans. Mr. McCormack, in answer to my pending question since April 2nd regarding furnishing defense articles and services to Serbia and Montenegro by your government, I am wondering whether furnishing implies sales of arms or grants of arms to Serbia and Montenegro.

MR. MCCORMACK: We have to get back to you an answer of that, Lambros.

QUESTION: And one more?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Anything on Kosovo since the UN Security Council has convened to discuss Martin Ahtisaari's wise proposal for independent Kosovo controlled by Albania but partitioning Serbia?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think we have anything beyond the last time you asked about this when we expressed support for Mr. Ahtisaari and his plan. We also think it's important to work with other members of the Security Council on this question. It has been one that has lingered in the international system for quite some time and it is time -- and it is time to resolve it in the near future.

QUESTION: Are --

MR. MCCORMACK: We're working with interested parties. That's enough.

QUESTION: Are you consulting with Russia?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's enough. That's enough. That's enough.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any reaction to The New York Times story today -- it was reported in the Globe last month -- about Israel blocking potential arms deal with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states worth approximately $10 billion?

MR. MCCORMACK: We are working with Saudi Arabia, states in the Gulf, on their particular defensive needs given the strategic challenges in the Gulf. This is also a subject of discussion with the Congress. It's -- I would describe it as an ongoing discussion. There are no final decisions yet.

As for the issue of so-called qualitative military edge, this is something that we are dedicated to helping Israel preserve for a number of different reasons -- for their defensive needs, for the deterrent nature of that edge, as well as allowing Israel to take calculated risk in the interest of peace.

So in any consideration of arms sales in the region, this is an important factor along with our good, strong, close historical relations with countries in the Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Sure, but people in the Middle East obviously are having a hard time understanding this in light of all that's going on -- Iraq, Iran. Can you name another country in the world that has this privilege of telling the U.S. Government what to sell or not to sell and to whom?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's -- well, first of all, I wouldn't put it quite that way. As I said --

QUESTION: Iceland. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And Haiti.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. No, look, there are a number of different -- any time you are considering the defensive needs of states in the Gulf region, whether that's Saudi Arabia or any other state in the Gulf region, there are a number of different factors that go into the decision-making process. We've already taken some steps in terms of providing Patriot PAC-3 missile systems to help address what those -- the states in that region perceive as a very real threat. There are other stages to the various requests that have come in. We're considering those at the moment. We're working with the Hill. But I stated clearly the reasoning behind the qualitative military advantage and there's a reason why the United States has this policy and we think that there are sound reasons. We are committed to Israel's security. We also are committed to our historical relationships, good, strong relationships with other states in the region, including Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up, if you don't mind. The same weapons were provided to Israel and were used against civilians in Lebanon, and don't you see the problems then -- people in the Middle East and the Arab world having with this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, as I said, that there's no final decision as to the composition of a potential security package for the region. But -- and in terms of the weapons that are sold to Israel, those are done strictly in accordance with U.S. laws and regulations and --

QUESTION: Weapons that were used against civilians --

MR. MCCORMACK: In the case of -- in the cases of weapons systems that could potentially throw -- pose a -- what's the right word to put it -- a very particular risk to civilians beyond that which is associated with other weapon systems. They are quite clearly rules and understandings that are written into those agreements. And we're quite serious about those as is the state of Israel.

QUESTION: Sean, just one follow-up on that. Like the whole idea that Israel should have a military advantage over the Gulf States, these are states that you're praising for their initiative to Israel to normalize relations. So do you think that continuing to provide Israel with this military, you know, qualitative advantage over the states that you're promoting peace with is sending a mixed signal?

MR. MCCORMACK: In our view, it doesn't. And I think I explained why. One, there is -- there are defensive needs, there is the deterrent factor involved in it. But there's also a factor in here with respect to everybody's overarching goal and that is peace and that that sort of security for the state of Israel could allow it to take some of the calculated risks that it will need to take in order to achieve peace.

QUESTION: I have one more on Israel related to Speaker Pelosi's trip. The Israelis are saying that she kind of botched the message that she brought to President Assad that Israel is looking for peace talks. And I was wondering if you think that this complicates what you're trying to do in relation to the peace process and if her getting involved in this kind of diplomacy is -- I know you said she shouldn't go because of the message that it sends to Syria. But in terms of someone who's not particularly following these kind of issues day in day out as a diplomat should someone like that be involved in passing messages to countries that you're trying to negotiate with on a peace deal?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Israeli Government has already come out and said that there's no change in policy. I think that that is quite clear. Look, we made our views known quite clearly to Speaker Pelosi, as well as to others in congressional delegations that were considering and chose -- or chose to travel to Syria. We thought it was not a good idea and we listed the reasons why. It sends the wrong message to Syria. They exploit these high level visits for all the PR value that they're worth and then they don't change their behavior. And that is a reason that we gave to Speaker Pelosi as well as others who have chosen to travel there as well. I don't think it necessarily complicates anything that we're doing because everybody understands quite clearly what the policies of the United States Government are.

The fact that it is the Executive Branch that is responsible for foreign policy, we certainly encourage congressional delegations to travel outside the United States, to travel around the world to acquaint themselves with the conditions in the countries with which we are dealing. That is important. We encourage that and we support those efforts. But I think everybody understands that it's the Executive Branch that is responsible for foreign policy, that it's the State Department that is responsible for formulating and executing those policies.

QUESTION: But the concerns that you had about her going, sending the wrong message. Now, there's this idea that she kind of miscommunicated a message between two countries. Were your fears and concerns realized? I mean, do you think that she's accomplished anything good on this trip?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think I'll leave that assessment to Speaker Pelosi and her traveling delegation to explain what it is that they think that they accomplished on the trip.

QUESTION: But what about your concerns? I mean, does it seem as if -- that she's accomplished anything in terms of sending the wrong -- do you think that she has sent the wrong message? It would seem what's coming from Damascus the messages and statements that are coming from the Syrian Government. Do you -- are your worst fears realized?

MR. MCCORMACK: Elise, you've tried, what, three times now? I'm not going to take the bait.

QUESTION: Sean, can I just ask you about Negroponte going to Darfur. Is this correct?

QUESTION: I was going to follow-up on same subject, about peace and talk about Executive Branch. There was a piece in today’s Post --

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll get back to Sudan.

QUESTION: Yeah, please. Sorry about that.

QUESTION: It's all right.

QUESTION: There's a consensus apparently in the Middle East and that according to a Mr. Novak who covered (inaudible) summit in Tel Aviv, I believe, that the perception of the Secretary Rice is very serious about the peace process. But she cannot do it alone without the support of her boss. It refers to President Bush. Is there any reason, you know, for this (inaudible) to be concerned that there'll be no peace process for the remaining months of this administration?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think there should be any miscalculation that Secretary Rice is not carrying out the policies that she discusses and formulates with the President of the United States. She is traveling on behalf of the President of the United States. They talk about this issue almost every single time that they get together. They formulate the strategy together. They formulate the tactics together. They share the same goals. He spoke to this issue just prior to her departure on the last trip, talking about the fact that he was -- that she was traveling out there in support of his policies to move the process forward and he has made that known quite clearly to leaders in the region. So I don't think that there should be any mistake about that.

QUESTION: Sean, a quick -- new subject, please?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on this one.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: What did you get -- what was the State Department's impression of what Assad said to the Speaker? Did you see anything in there that was --

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't gotten any readouts of the private discussion that they had. There's typically the cable that's generated, apparently you haven't got it in your mailbox yet.

QUESTION: Not yet, no.

MR. MCCORMACK: Keep on waiting for that. So I, you know --

QUESTION: But you haven't gotten it either.

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't gotten a readout. No, I haven't gotten it either. Let me know when you do. Give me a copy.

QUESTION: Do you expect a briefing from her or her staff when she comes back?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure there'll probably be a follow up conversation, probably at the staff level.

QUESTION: Can you go on to Darfur?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, back to --

QUESTION: Is he going and what's he going to say?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, here we are. I have some information for you on this. Let's see, here we are. Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte will travel to Sudan, Chad, Libya and Mauritania, April 11th through the 19th. The focus of the trip will be the crisis in Darfur and ongoing efforts to achieve peace in Sudan through the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. And we'll be putting out a piece of paper on this with a more formal announcement after the briefing.

QUESTION: You said Libya?

QUESTION: Will the press be able to go on the trip?

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Can I accompany him?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe that's in the cards, but we'll -- I'll double check for you.

QUESTION: This will be the highest level visit since -- I don't know how long -- to Libya, well at least since like the late '60s or the mid '60s.

QUESTION: No.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you. I'll have to check with the historian's office.

QUESTION: Well, does he plan to talk -- the idea in him going there is for -- is to just to talk about Libya and its assistance that it might give in Darfur or is he going to be looking into, you know, what other kinds of issues will he be looking into if any?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. The focus of is trip is Sudan. This is a regional crisis, unfortunately. And he's also going to be stopping in Chad as well, so the focus of his discussions will be on Sudan and how Libya -- how Chad can play a role in resolving the conflict, what they might do. It certainly touches on their borders. As for any other discussions, I'm -- you know, again I'm not going to constrain the Deputy Secretary in what he may wish to bring up, but the focus is on Sudan and that's the focus of his trip.

QUESTION: And does he plan to meet with the leader?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think we have his agenda yet.

QUESTION: Sean, what does he hope to achieve on this trip, though, to Darfur? Is it to try and encourage these Sudanese authorities to accept a hybrid force into Darfur or to provide more protection for aid groups working there? Maybe if you could just flesh this out a little bit.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's all of the above. Certainly, he is going to encourage the Sudanese Government to give the green light to the AU/UN hybrid package, which is fundamental to providing security and greater stability in Darfur. It also would -- once you have greater security and stability in Darfur, it makes it a little bit easier to implement the Darfur Peace Agreement, which admittedly is a difficult task. But it does help that situation. And most important, that would allow some easing of the terrible humanitarian situation that we find in Darfur right now. He's also going -- I'll get more for you in the future, but I know he is going to raise the issue of the ability of the NGOs to operate in Darfur and their ability to deliver humanitarian assistance. And the fact that the Sudanese government needs to do everything that it possibly can to halt, stop, prevent any attacks on innocent civilians or those aid groups.

QUESTION: Would it be safe to assume that you're not going to impose any additional sanctions against the Sudanese Government before his trip?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is something that is under active consideration -- what further steps we might take. It's -- at this point, I don't have an announcement date for you when and if we decide to take those steps.

QUESTION: But today, it sounds like (inaudible) might issue an ultimatum essentially when he goes (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again, he's going to encourage the Sudanese Government to take the steps that it needs to, to get that AU/UN force in and I'm sure that he will have a direct conversation with the Sudanese leadership about where they stand vis-à-vis the rest of the international system.

QUESTION: Will Special Envoy Natsios be going with him?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I'll check for you.

QUESTION: Back to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Hold on, Lambros. You've had more than your share.

Yeah.

QUESTION: So the U.S. -- the Bush Administration was expected, really last week or this week to impose these sanctions and it appears that Bashir's comments --

MR. MCCORMACK: Expected by whom?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: But anyway, it was expected and it seems that you're holding back now on imposing these sanctions. Is this because you think that -- is this because you're responding to Secretary General Ban's plea for you to just sit back and wait a bit? Or are you not sure that sanctions is the right way to go? I just wonder where you're at now on this.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we want to -- well, a couple of things. One, we wanted to talk to the Secretary General about his trip to see if there was anything that came out of his discussions. The other thing was we wanted to make sure that in considering what other next steps we might take, that we were -- that we had on the table all of those things that we thought would be most effective and were we doing everything we can to change the Sudanese behavior, to encourage them to change their behavior. So it's a combination of taking a look at what other diplomacy is ongoing, whether or not that's yielding results, as well as internally taking a look at what it is we would put on the table for next steps that we would take.

QUESTION: But do you think the Sudanese are going to take you seriously the longer you take to impose measures that might encourage them to change or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, if they don't change their behavior, I wouldn't bet against the United States as well as others taking additional steps.

QUESTION: Sean, also on Sudan.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Has the United States determined whether the recent attacks on civilians in eastern Chad was the work of Sudanese Janjaweed militia?

MR. MCCORMACK: There have been reports that they were Janjaweed militia. I'm not sure that we have been able to determine that definitively, but the reports from the ground were that they were Janjaweed militia.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary's going to discuss the issue of the Bulgarian nurses with the Libyans along with the Sudan, as you said?

MR. MCCORMACK: The Deputy Secretary? I don't know. I'll check for you, Lambros.

QUESTION: Sean --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if that's going to be on his agenda.

QUESTION: Sean, quick (inaudible) question, please. One, any update on the Indian arrests and any contact with -- between U.S. and India and do you have the name of --

MR. MCCORMACK: Check with the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: But do we have the name of the --

QUESTION: In terms of Libya, what sort of role do you think Libya wants to play in terms of resolving the Darfur crisis? Because some people seem to think it's a little unclear as to what their intentions are here.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that's part of the discussion and I'm not trying to attribute any particular motive to them, but it would be to encourage the Libyan Government to play an active, positive role in not only helping to resolve the crisis and encouraging the Sudanese Government to take the steps that it needs to take, but also to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:21 p.m.)

DPB # 60



Released on April 5, 2007



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