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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 19, 2007


Iranian Response to Request for Information Regarding Missing US Citizen / U.S. Will Continue to Pursue with Iran and Other Countries
Death of Peace Corps Volunteer Julia Campbell / Ongoing Investigation
Deputy Secretary Negroponte's Travel / Meetings in Libya / Issue of Imprisoned Bulgarian Nurses Raised
Deputy Secretary's Travel to Sudan and Mauritania / Meetings
Russian Criticism of Missile Defense System in Europe
Secretary Rice's Possible Travel to Russia
Al-Qaida and Threats to Security in Iraq
Congressional Concern Regarding Human Rights Situation / U.S. Aid
North Korea's Obligations / Banco Delta Asia Issue / Six-Party Talks
Proposed New Rules for Combating Racism and Hate Crimes


12:48 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. You have any -- no opening statements. We can get right to your questions.



QUESTION: Were you able to find out what exactly the Iranian response was? Were you able to get a look at it or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I took a look at it. It's brief. It's very matter of fact, straightforward, and they said that they didn't have any information regarding the individual that we described. And our thoughts on that are we're going to continue to pursue it with the Iranian Government. We have assured ourselves to a reasonable degree that he is actually in Iran. We know that he went there. We're pretty sure that he didn't leave.

We're also going to take some other steps. We're going to reach out to some European states that have diplomatic relations with Iran, see if they can knock on a few doors with their government contacts in getting more information about Mr. Levinson's whereabouts. So that's really where we stand right now.

QUESTION: Okay. And when you say -- and I realize you're going to -- you're probably going to dismiss my question, but I would like to ask you --

MR. MCCORMACK: Never in any way.

QUESTION: When you say that the response was brief, literally like, one paragraph saying "Sorry, we don't have any?"

MR. MCCORMACK: Which paragraph do you see -- I can't remember --

QUESTION: Does it say, "Sorry, we don't have any?"

MR. MCCORMACK: It's not the way these things go. You know, five or six sentences, pretty short with all the accompanying diplomatic language.

QUESTION: Language --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, it's actually --

QUESTION: So we have the honor of accepting ourselves to --

MR. MCCORMACK: It takes the -- exactly, it takes a while to clear the throat when you -- in the diplomatic language-speak mode.

QUESTION: I will drop it, then.


QUESTION: Do you find it plausible that the Iranian Government should have no information whatsoever about this man?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's what they said thus far. We're -- let me just put it this way. We're going to continue to pursue it with them and, as I pointed out, with others who might have some entre into -- with their own sources in Iran to maybe discern where Mr. Levinson is.

You guys asked me earlier about the question of, well, have there ever been any American citizens in recent memory who have gone missing in Iran that we have made inquiries about that are still missing, but we don't know of their whereabouts. And I checked with our Consular Affairs Bureau and in -- to their memory, there aren't any other cases. On average, it's about two to three a year where we have these kind of inquiries where family members or friends might make an inquiry about somebody who's traveling in Iran or who has gone to Iran for business or other purposes and they haven't heard from them in a given period of time, so we've made inquiries to the Iranian Government, "Do you know where this person is?"

And in every -- any -- every case in recent memory, we've been able to find them, either gotten the information or the person has called their friends and family, so the question's been cleared up.

QUESTION: So this is an unprecedented situation here?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's unique in recent memory, in that thus far, we have not been able to locate Mr. Levinson.

QUESTION: When the Iranians said -- just taking a look at it, when they said, "We have no information about him," did they not even have information about his arrival in Iran? Are they questioning the -- you know --

MR. MCCORMACK: They said -- you know, I'm not quoting exact words here, but essentially, "We don't have any information regarding the person that you've described."

QUESTION: And what other European countries that you are reaching out to?

MR. MCCORMACK: We're not going to get into who might be assisting us, but we're going to talk to a couple of them now. We may, depending on what sort of information they're able to turn up, we may expand that out. But we're going to start with a couple right now.

QUESTION: Sean, is it your information that when Mr. Levinson checked into his hotel he checked in under his own name?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that we -- I don't know, Charlie. I can't tell you. I believe that's true but let me check -- see if we know that bit of information.

QUESTION: Sean, I know it's a delicate situation. I know your hands are tied. But there's a lot of speculation out there that he's been picked up, he's being held in Tehran as some kind of potential prisoner exchange.


QUESTION: For either, you know, the Iranians in Iran -- or in Iraq -- or possibly this guy that was picked up in Turkey a few months ago by the CIA. Have you any reaction to that, those kinds of --

MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen a lot of that speculation in the press reported in various places. I can't say anything other than it's speculation. We don't know where he is. We don't know his whereabouts and that's the reason why we're asking all these questions. And we are going to do absolutely everything we can as a government to work on behalf of an American citizen and his family, make sure he gets back safely and sees his family and friends.

QUESTION: Can you give me the theme of Americans overseas, individuals --


QUESTION: Is there any update? Have you heard anything from the Philippines? Is the embassy there gotten any more information about the death of the Peace Corps volunteer?

MR. MCCORMACK: And the circumstances -- not that I'm aware of. I don't think we've had any updates. I believe it's an ongoing investigation.

Yes, Nicholas.

QUESTION: Sean, you talked briefly yesterday about the Deputy Secretary's meetings in Libya.


QUESTION: You did say he brought up the Bulgarian nurses --


QUESTION: -- in his meeting with the Foreign Minister. Do you know today more about sort of what exactly he asked or -- how he brought it up?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't have anything

QUESTION: You don't have any more than you did yesterday?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. He'll be back -- he's going to be on his way back from Mauritania soon, leaving today. He'll be back here in the office I think late tomorrow afternoon. I think we'll have an opportunity to get a full debrief on his trip. He's going to sit down and talk to the Secretary.

QUESTION: A full brief?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, he's not going to give you a full briefing personally, Lambros. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) humanitarian mission (inaudible) for 126 children with HIV virus. It's a very important issue -- to discuss this issue.

MR. MCCORMACK: It is a very important issue, which is the reason why he brought it up and it's the reason why the Secretary brings it up whenever she has a meeting with a Libyan official.

QUESTION: Sean, have you heard -- has he reported back to the Department yet or has he still only reported back to the White House about his Sudan meetings?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, he's --

QUESTION: And the reason --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, he's been --

QUESTION: I actually have a non-obnoxious reason for asking this -- and that's news. (Laughter.) And that is that in Mauritania I presume that he'll have discussions with the President-elect or I guess he's now the president.

MR. MCCORMACK: Now the president --

QUESTION: And yesterday you were talking about --

MR. MCCORMACK: Depending on when he has the conversation, if it's before or afterwards, yeah.

QUESTION: Broader Arab League dialogue with the Israelis on this. And I'm just wondering if that is something -- considering Mauritania is one of the few that has relations with Israel, if that's something that he has or will or was planning to bring up with the new president?

MR. MCCORMACK: He has called back to the State Department. He has reported back. He just hasn't had an opportunity to give the Secretary a full, detailed briefing of his travels.

On that, let me ask the question, Matt. I haven't asked, so I'll be happy to look into it for you.

QUESTION: Sean, just to follow up on this --


QUESTION: Since there is another trial or part of it scheduled for next month, are you aware of any new or recent efforts by the State Department to bilaterally, since you have now an office or some sort of a mission in Tripoli, to work with the Libyans to try to get a resolution soon?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you what the most recent contacts have been, but it's something that we consistently bring up. The consistent message is that these individuals need to be returned back to their home countries as soon as possible.

Yes, David.

QUESTION: The Russians have pretty firmly rebuffed some offers and proposals put forward to them about cooperating with the missile defense thing. Do you have any kind of response to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't seen their rebuff.

QUESTION: Sergey Ivanov --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's a serious offer for cooperation on missile defense. This is a threat that is common to us, the Russians, the Europeans and others. John Rood, who is Assistant Secretary responsible for these matters, was just having conversations with his counterpart, Sergei Kislyak, on this as well as other matters. So he reiterated our offer for cooperation on missile defense and I guess this is the response to it. We're going to keep hammering away at it because we think it's important. We think it's important for Europeans. We think it's important for us. We think it's important for the Russians. And this idea that somehow this poses a threat to the strategic balance with regard to Russian rocket forces is just far-fetched, frankly. But we're -- you know, that said, we're going to keep working with the Russians on this.

QUESTION: You say it's important to -- you know, to try and reach some kind of understanding and agreement with them. Is it important enough that you could put the moves towards actually placing this -- elements of the shield in the Czech Republic and in Poland in order to facilitate those talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: That we would delay those efforts?


MR. MCCORMACK: I don't foresee that, no. It's just a false choice that they're presenting out there with respect to the missile defense efforts. (A) We have offered deep cooperation with them on this and we would like to make this a cooperative effort. It doesn't pose a threat to Russia. In fact, we believe Russia might even benefit from these efforts. So you know, I -- you'll have to Russian -- ask the Russians for -- questions about their motivations for making this is an issue. I can't explain it to you. But this is not something that poses a threat to the strategic balance with regard to Russia.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. feel that the missile threat, the potential missile threat from rogue states or whatever, is so imminent that there is no time to waste in terms of putting this in place?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you already have -- you already have the ability of Iran with its missile forces to reach Europe. This is -- and they show no signs of letting up in developing longer-range missiles that could eventually reach further into Russia, further into Europe and eventually the United States. It's not only a threat that emanates from the Middle East. We have concerns about North Korea's missile program development. In response to that, we have in Alaska put out a test bed system that provides a rudimentary ability to perhaps intercept some of these missiles, but is also a test bed.

And this is an architecture and technology that's going to develop over time and we think it's important. I just can't buy the argument that you just allow yourself to be threatened by potential missile launches from rogue states such as Iran and not do something about it, not make every attempt to protect yourself against those kind of efforts. And that's our view and I think it's shared by a lot of others in Europe as well. Apparently, the Russians haven't quite come around to that view. We're going to try to talk to them and bring them around to that point of view.

QUESTION: Do you have any plans for Secretary Rice to actually meet with her Russian counterpart to try and do this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I expect she'll probably be traveling to Russia in the next month or so. And Secretary Gates, I think, is scheduled to -- either has gone or is going to go there.


QUESTION: Can I switch to Iraq, these attacks?


QUESTION: You said this morning that bore all the hallmarks of al-Qaida. Would you say now in your assessment that, you know, al-Qaida in Iraq is a bigger threat now to security than, say, the Mahdi army?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm going to leave that to the commanders out there. They're the ones qualified to make those kind of military judgments. Clearly, they pose different kinds of threats. The Mahdi army obviously is a sect-based organization that's designed to try to protect certain Shia populations from outside threats and there have been allegations that they have been engaged in sectarian-based violence, and given cause to the rise in sectarian tensions in Iraq. Al-Qaida is a different kind of -- it's a different kind of threat. In some cases no less deadly, but they have different modus operandi, different bases of support.

It's our view -- it's the view of the military professionals that many of these spectacular vehicle-borne attacks that you see, for example yesterday the series of bombs that went off that resulted in just horrific casualties there, are the work of al-Qaida. And they, too, are designed to exacerbate sectarian tensions in Iraq. We've seen a consistent strategy that Zarqawi articulated several years ago and that really came into high relief with the Samarra mosque bombing back in 2006.

QUESTION: Do you have the sense some of these are homegrown fighters or whether they're coming from different countries?

MR. MCCORMACK: You can check with MNFI for their most recent assessment, but I think that there is a -- it's hard to draw some of the lines. There's a corps of fighters that are coming in from overseas from outside Iraq's borders. It seems as though there are also Iraqis who have joined in. I can't from here paint the picture for you of exactly all the relationships between al-Qaida and Iraq and then other perhaps independent yet associated groups. But they do -- as a whole, they pose a serious threat to not only Iraq but to our forces as well as potentially to Iraq's neighbors.

QUESTION: And there have been reports that Maliki has ordered the arrest of the colonel that was in charge of security of that area, the market area. Can you confirm that and --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I heard -- I've heard that as well. I'm not in a position to confirm it for you.

Lambros, we'll get to you. Yeah, just behind you. Yeah.

QUESTION: A question on Colombia.


QUESTION: Senator Patrick Leahy has blocked the aid for Colombia and I am waiting for full explanation from the State Department on how you cleared Colombia in human rights. Are you going to provide that explanation or what's your reaction about the Senator's action?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you the particular state of play right now. I know it's been an ongoing concern for him. We've had a dialogue with him for some time on this. You know, of course we want to work with the Senator to address whatever concerns he may have. I can say that we have had very good conversations with President Uribe as well as other Colombian Government representatives on this matter.

We believe they're pursuing these questions in a serious manner and that the Colombian justice system is dealing with those paramilitary organizations that have been accused of human rights violations in an open, transparent manner consistent with Colombian law. President Uribe has talked about the fact that he is going to let these investigations proceed and play out no matter where they may lead. And we have seen, in public and in private conversations, evidence of that.


QUESTION: Still on North Korea, when we passed the deadline, you mentioned that you'd be willing to wait a few days on North Korea to take actions as soon as possible. It's already been a few days. How much longer are you willing to wait? And what next steps are being considered at the moment?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, I think there's no change in our position. Any remaining issues are issues that are between North Korea and its bankers. We -- they have stated themselves that they remain committed to the February 13th agreement. We expect them to meet their obligations. We explained the reasons for our flexibility on this matter at this time. BDA was more complicated than anybody could have imagined. That said, we expect North Korea to live up to its obligations and once this banking matter is concluded, perhaps everybody can get back to the real business of the six-party talks, which is the denuclearization issue.

QUESTION: But how much longer are you willing to wait, really, until you begin to take more concrete steps and still --

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, we're waiting to -- we're willing to wait some days.

QUESTION: Do you have any (inaudible) up to access as to the money in the BDA accounts or to check whether they can do so?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think I'm going to let -- allow the North Korean Government to speak to that.

QUESTION: Was it --

QUESTION: Thanks for (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: You can ask at their daily briefing, Matt.

QUESTION: Sounds like you have (inaudible) going out. Do you have any reason to believe that any --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, that's not -- that's not what I'm trying to say. No, you were talking about whether or not they've tried to access --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- the stuff. I'll let them speak to that. Yeah.

QUESTION: Who determines when the banking matter is concluded?

MR. MCCORMACK: Who determines when the banking matter is concluded? I expect the North Koreans probably will --

QUESTION: So it's come on their timetable, in other words?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, sure. It is in -- yes, I guess you can say that it is, but also remember that they are not going to see the 50,000 tons in fuel oil and they are not going to be able to realize the potential benefits of engaging in six-party talks if they fail to act on the core issue, which is denuclearization.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) or are you going to wait forever?

MR. MCCORMACK: We said that we don't -- Matt, do you have something to add?


MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Something you'd like to share with the class, Matthew?


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: It's been noted. Look, there is not an infinite amount of time, but we're willing to give this some days, yeah.

And we're down to you, Lambros.

QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, on FYROM I need your special attention.


QUESTION: According to a bunch of reports in the entire Balkans, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent a letter to Skopje which has been released by the authorities in Skopje saying, inter alia, that here there is no agreement with Athens on the name issue, then the U.S. Government will proceed to support FYROM to enter NATO with the so-called constitutional name Macedonia. Could you please clarify for us the U.S. policy?

MR. MCCORMACK: I read the line, Lambros, and there's no change in U.S. policy. And I think if you read it, you won't discern there's any change in U.S. policy. We continue to support Greece and Macedonia coming to a solution under the aegis of the UN. There's a process underway. We encourage both sides to come to a resolution of the matter.

QUESTION: And as far as for the NATO issue, what the letter is saying since you saw the letter?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, there's no change in our policy.

QUESTION: Sean, your friends in Europe appear today to have adopted some sweeping new hate speech laws that would include punishments for Holocaust deniers.


QUESTION: I'm wondering if you have any comment on this, if you think it's a good idea or if you think it's a violation of the freedom of expression that the United States enshrines in its constitution.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Look, it's going to be a matter for your individual European states at the EU to come up with their own laws. We've talked a lot about the fact that while we share the same set of values regarding freedom of expression, different states are going to draw that line -- the line in a different place. The U.K. has a completely different set of laws with respect to what can be printed in newspapers that -- information based on classified materials. That would never -- I suspect that would never fly with the AP or any of the other news organizations here. And we ourselves in our set of laws have drawn the line in a different place.

So it really is up to those states to define for themselves where they draw those lines. And everybody understands from where this springs. The European states are trying to deal with a particular issue in their history and they have chose to deal with it in this way. So we -- whereas these states are going to deal with it in their own way, we do share a common set of values. How that is actually manifested in laws is going to vary from place to place.

QUESTION: Right. No, I understand that. But do you think that this is an infringement on freedom of speech, freedom of expression?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's not --

QUESTION: I mean, you have said that these Human Rights Reports every year that talk about --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I understand --

QUESTION: Is this something --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I understand where you're coming -- look, we're not going to play the Constitutional Court for the EU or these European states. It's for them to decide. We think that these states have a fundamental commitment to the same values that we share regarding freedom of expression and, you know, participation in the political process and to trying to deal with difficult issues like the Holocaust. How they deal with that ultimately is going to be for them to define.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right, thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:08 p.m.)

DPB # 69

Released on April 19, 2007

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