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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 1, 2007

INDEX:

MIDDLE EAST
Informal Meeting Between Members of Quartet and Arab Delegation
Briefing on Arab Initiative to Hear from Arab League Representatives
Arab Initiative Can Be a Possible Starting Point for Diplomacy
U.S. Position on Lebanon Not in Question
U.S. Will not Rule Anything Out in Either Meeting with Syrians or Iranians
VENEZUELA
Issue of Current Negotiations Between Venezuela and Oil Companies
Reports of Venezuela's Possible Withdrawal from IMF and World Bank
U.S. View that Venezuelan People Suffer as a Result of President Chavez's Decisions
INDIA
Foreign Secretary Menon's Meetings with State Department Officials
Focus of Meetings Primarily on India's Nuclear Issue / How to Move Forward on 123 Agreement
U.S. Committed to Work in Good Faith to Get an Agreement
Discussions with Under Secretary Burns and Foreign Secretary Menon
Negotiators Work on Ideas on Nuclear Issue
IRAQ
Issue of Reported Death of al-Qaida Leader al-Masri / What it Means to Have a Senior al-Qaida Leader Taken Out of the Game
NIGERIA
Reports of a Possible Kidnapping of an American Oil Worker
TURKEY
U.S. Position that Protesters Should be Allowed to Express Views Freely and Peacefully
U.S. Has Faith in Turkey's Constitutional Process and Democratic System
CHINA
U.S. at Forefront of Promotion of Human Rights Around the Globe, including China
Important for Chinese to Understand Importance of People Being Able to Freely Express Themselves
IRAN
Iranians Understand What they Need to Do in Order to Realize Negotiations
Nothing New on Levinson
MISCELLANEOUS
Issue of Congressman Waxman's Subpoena
Wolfowitz Has been an Agent for Change at World Bank
U. S. Has Worked with World Bank on New Ideas / Developed a Healthy Dialogue
MONTENEGRO
Secretary Rice Pleased to Meet with President Vujanovic / Talked About Challenges Ahead
GREECE
U.S. Position has not Changed with Respect to Name of Sovereign State of Macedonia


TRANSCRIPT:

12:05 p.m. EST

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

QUESTION: Well, the Secretary is leaving later on for the meeting. Can you just update us on her planned bilats with the Iranians, with the Syrians, those kinds of things?

MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't bring that list with me. I'll post it right afterwards. Sorry. I did my research, but I just forgot to bring it down here with me.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you confirm there is a Quartet meeting scheduled?

MR. MCCORMACK: What has been put on the books, I think, just as of yesterday, is an informal meeting between members of the Quartet and the Arab delegation that has been designated as the delegation that's going to be explaining the Arab League initiative. So that is going to be on Friday afternoon, I believe, after the Iraq neighbors conference meeting.

QUESTION: In Sharm el-Sheikh?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it'll be in Sharm el-Sheikh.

QUESTION: Will the Israelis be included?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, this is just the Arab League brief.

QUESTION: And you said members of the Quartet. Which members?

MR. MCCORMACK: It'll be all four members of the Quartet. I just want to distinguish this as not a "Quartet meeting." It's members of the Quartet being briefed on the Arab initiative by this group of Arab states.

QUESTION: Is that the Egyptians and the Jordanians or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll get you a list. It's the Egyptians, the Jordanians; I believe the Saudis and the Syrians would be there as well. We'll get you a full list.

QUESTION: Why are they going to be briefed on the Arab initiative? They were already briefed.

MR. MCCORMACK: This was -- well, the members of the Quartet haven't been briefed as a group, and this was something that Egyptian Foreign Minister Abu Gheit suggested. We thought it was a fine idea. They talked a little bit about it yesterday in the troika meeting with Mr. Solana, Mr. Steinmeier and Ms. Ferrero-Waldner. So they all agreed it was a good idea to do. You know, a good idea to hear directly from the Arab League representatives as to what underpins their initiative, what their plans are for briefing it to other states, including the Israelis.

QUESTION: Do you still hold out any hope that the Arab League may choose for members other than those that already have peace with Israel, notably the Saudis, might actually engage with the Israelis on this, as the Secretary has said she hopes?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think as an initial offering, it's probably just going to be the Egyptians and the Jordanians, I suspect. But as we've said before, this initiative can be a starting point for diplomacy, it could be a basis for further diplomacy. So we'll see if it -- that, in fact, happens, if there are any follow-on meetings scheduled, whether or not, to use the Secretary's word, the geometry changes at all over time. So look at this as an initial meeting, something that we encourage, something that we think is positive. We also have encouraged both sides to look at it as a possible starting point, so we'll see if, in fact, it is just that or it is just a one-off meeting.

QUESTION: Gee, I'm not sure I understood. You say the Saudis and the Syrians will also be --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, part of this.

QUESTION: -- so the Syrian Foreign Minister will be part of this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure if it'll be the Syrian Foreign Minister or not, but a Syrian representative.

QUESTION: And what role are they expected to play in that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would -- they're just part of this group. And we'll get you the full listing of it, but I wanted to, off the top of my head, give you the ones that I knew were planning to be there.

QUESTION: Will the Secretary use that meeting, since it will involve the Syrians with whom the U.S. Government has, you know, limited high-level contact -- does she plan to use that meeting to make any of her broader points to Syria about Lebanon, about Iraq and so on, or will that meeting just be focused exclusively on Israeli-Palestinian?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect that it would be focused exclusively on the topic at hand, and I expect if there are any other encounters -- we've talked a little bit about this. You've asked me in the past whether or not she would meet the Syrian Foreign Minister as part of the Iraq neighbors group. If there were such a meeting, that would be focused exclusively on Iraq. And let's be clear, it is not about Lebanon. Our position with respect to Lebanon and the non-negotiability of the fact of the tribunal or the non-negotiability of the fact of Lebanese sovereignty and support for democracy are, I don't think, in question. So if there were such a meeting, then it would be exclusively on issues related to Iraq.

QUESTION: Just to put it on the record, even though we know the answer I think, but you know, does the Secretary have any plans to meet either with the Iranian officials or with Syrian officials in a bilateral or other small grouping at the conference?

MR. MCCORMACK: Same answer as we've given before. I'm not going to rule it out, but I'm not at this point going to point you in a direction of a particular meeting. But we're -- you know, we're not going to rule anything out at this point.

QUESTION: And if -- again, if there were such encounters, it would be on the issues related to Iraq.

Okay, David.

QUESTION: Do you have a response to the decisions being announced in Venezuela both concerning the oil industry and the announcement that they intend to withdraw from the IMF and the World Bank?

MR. MCCORMACK: On the oil industry, I think, as I understand it, there are currently negotiations between the Venezuelan Government and the oil companies, and those are going to proceed as they will.

As far as the IMF and World Bank decision, look, you can't take the shovel out of the man's hand. He just keeps on digging. So -- and sadly, it's the Venezuelan people who are victimized by this. You know, beyond that I don't really have any further comment.

QUESTION: Sean, can you just continue on -- finish that phrase? I don't -- I'm not sure that everyone will understand. You can't take the shovel out of the man's hand. He just keeps on digging. You're suggesting he's digging a hole for himself?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think he's digging a hole for the Venezuelan people.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: And as I said, it's sadly the case that it is not just the Venezuelan elites around President Chavez who suffer as a result of these decisions. It's really the Venezuelan people who suffer.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Mr. Shivshenkar Menon, Foreign Secretary of India, arrives here at the State Department. So does the Indian mango from India this afternoon at the Commerce Department.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.

QUESTION: What are they going to talk about? This includes situation in Bangladesh and Afghanistan and --

MR. MCCORMACK: As far as the meeting at the Commerce Department --

QUESTION: No, no, as far as here. I mean the Secretary this afternoon.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Foreign Secretary Menon had dinner last night with Nick Burns and he met yesterday with Paula Dobriansky. He's going to have further meetings today with Nick Burns and Richard Boucher. The Secretary, I think, is going to stop by those meetings. She'll have a chance to chat with him.

Our focus is going to be primarily on the nuclear issue with India, how we can move forward on the 123 agreement. The initial read from the dinner last night was that the Foreign Secretary came here with some constructive ideas. That doesn't mean that we are going to be able to move this as quickly as we had hoped -- we'll see -- as a result of these meetings. But we're confident in the long run that we will get this deal done. So that will be the focus of the discussions. I expect they're going to talk about other things as well, the broader U.S.-India relationship.

QUESTION: The Secretary has any special message for him or for the Government of India as far as this nuclear issue is concerned?

MR. MCCORMACK: Only that we're committed to working in good faith to get an agreement, that we are confident that the Indian side is ready to work in good faith to get an agreement, that we will get one done and that it's going to require some creativity and some compromise on both sides in order to get an agreement done if we're going to be able to move this as quickly as we would have hoped. We're at a point now where we're going to see whether or not the agreement can be moved forward quickly or not.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did Under Secretary Burns have any talks yet with the Indian Foreign Secretary?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they've started this morning. He had some discussions this morning.

QUESTION: This morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, he had dinner with him last night.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any readout on that, on whether -- I mean, presumably he's got some kind of a sense of this so far. Do you have a sense of how it's going and whether you think you are going to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Not from this morning, but what I was conveying to you, sort of our overall sense that the Indians came here with some constructive ideas and that there's a possibility that we could move the process forward based on these ideas, although that's not a foregone conclusion. It was based on my discussion with Nick this morning about his dinner last night.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Nina.

QUESTION: Any more information on al-Masri?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't have any information. I can't -- I can't dispute what the Iraqi Government has said. I can't confirm it though for you.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Do you have any information or confirmation of the American being -- the oil worker kidnapped in Nigeria?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I'll look into it for you. Sadly, this is not an unusual occurrence. It does happen on a periodic basis, and typically what we do is we offer all the possible assistance we can to the oil companies involved, do everything we can to see that an American citizen is released unharmed as quickly as possible. But on this particular case, I don't have any info for you.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on al-Masri? I know you can't confirm this yet, but if he had been killed, can you tell us what this would mean for al-Qaida's operations in Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it means that you have a member of their senior leadership that is taken out of the game. And that doesn't mean that the threat goes away or that the organization won't generate another leader, but what's important, as you've heard from many people involved in the fight against terrorism, counterterrorism officials, you hear from them is that it's important to degrade the experience level of their leadership, the capabilities of their leadership. That doesn't mean that they regenerate. But it -- what it means perhaps they start to operate at a less effective level because they don't -- their leadership isn't as good. But it doesn't mean that the threat goes away.

Yes. Anyone else? Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Turkish police beating and detaining hundreds of May Day protestors in Istanbul today?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I can't speak to the specific circumstances. I know that this was a long-planned protest in Taksim Square in Istanbul. But in these cases, people should be allowed to express freely and peacefully their point of view. I can't speak to the specific circumstances here, Arshad, whether there was a provocation on one side or another, but in any case we encourage wherever these kinds of protests may occur they be allowed to proceed peacefully, that people be allowed to express their opinions and that both sides avoid any actions that might serve to provoke the other, whether that's the security forces provoking protestors or protestors provoking security forces.

QUESTION: Any message you'd like to send following the Constitutional Court's ruling this morning annulling the first round of presidential vote?

MR. MCCORMACK: Only to reiterate what I said yesterday, and that is that we have faith in Turkey's constitutional processes, we have faith in Turkish secular democracy and that we are confident that the political questions that arise concerning the vote and the election of the next Turkish president will be worked out within the confines of Turkish law and the Turkish constitution.

QUESTION: One more?

MR. MCCORMACK: Ah, Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes, Mr. McCormack, the leading editorial of Washington Post today says, inter alia, "Western governments have no ground to support the attempt to stop the elections, much less a military." (Inaudible) dictator (inaudible) General Yasar Buyukanit, who is saying the other day the (inaudible) almost for a coup d'etat against the candidacy of the democratic leader Abdullah Gul. Do you agree with this editorial which clearly sent the signal protect the (inaudible) in Turkey and since the today's bad news from Ankara are moving the political crisis to this direction?

MR. MCCORMACK: We are confident that the Turkish democratic institutions and the Turkish people are fully capable of preserving and moving forward Turkish democracy, and we have full faith in the Turkish democratic system and the people who lead that system.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: This same editorial said many Turks would favor the relaxation of the rigid secularism implemented in Turkey in the last eight years or whatever. Do you agree with that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks very much for all these attempts to draw me into the Turkish domestic politics. I'm going to resist all of your attempts to do so. I'm going to stick to the comments that I've given you about the ongoing political situation in Turkey.

Yeah, David.

QUESTION: An EU parliamentary delegation met with Prime Minister Hania today even though the EU has maintained its boycott of --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- that side. Do you have any comment on --

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me look into it, David. I hadn't seen the report.

Goyal.

QUESTION: Sean, yesterday, Amnesty International issued a report -- human rights report on China and blasting China as far as the human rights situation is concerned.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: And it's also saying that the global body or the UN and U.S. must do more to protect the Chinese and their human rights. Any comments on that special report on China or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we're -- Goyal, we're at the forefront of promotion of human rights around the globe including in China. We're forceful advocates for human rights. We work with the Chinese authorities to ensure that in those cases where individuals are arrested or detained, that their rights are preserved and that there is a fair and speedy process. All of that said, it's important that Chinese officials look at the importance and understand the importance of people being able to freely express themselves in China within the political system. That's not the case at the moment, but that still remains our goal and it's something that we work with Chinese officials on at virtually every single meeting we have with them.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Back to Iran. The Iranian Government spokesman is quoted as saying that Iran won't negotiate with the United States until it stops its "evil approach." I'll give you the full comment.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, that's not fair.

QUESTION: "Naturally, until the Americans stop their arrogant, one-sided, and evil approach, we won't negotiate with them." What do you think about that kind of fairly hostile rhetoric ahead of -- you know, a meeting or the possibility of a meeting this week that you were clearly open to? And does this make it harder for you to meet with them? Does it make you any less inclined to deal with them?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, it's rhetoric, you know, and -- you know, I'm not sure I would ascribe any particular significance to it. The Iranians understand what they need to do in order to realize negotiations and whatever the case may be in Sharm el-Sheikh, it's not going to -- it's not a negotiation. It's a conference about Iraq and we would hope that the Iranians use the opportunity to match their actions with their words when they talk about the importance of good, neighborly, transparent relations and their interest in a stable, prosperous, democratic Iraq for all Iraqis, so -- you know, I don't ascribe any particular significance to those words.

Yeah, Matt.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any developments in the response to Congressman Waxman's subpoena?

MR. MCCORMACK: I know the White House and the Justice Department lawyers are taking a look at Congressman Waxman's subpoena of Secretary Rice and that they are going to -- the White House is going to go back to --

QUESTION: But you're not aware of any --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I know that --

QUESTION: Or letters that she's sent? I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: No letters from her. I expect at some point there will be some communication from the White House to Chairman Waxman concerning the subpoena, but to my knowledge, that hasn't happened yet.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Anything new on Levinson?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, nothing new.

QUESTION: That's the daily question.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, nothing new.

Nina.

QUESTION: On Wolfowitz, the President came out yesterday backing him. He said he wanted him to stay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: He praised his work for advancing the eradication of world poverty.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: But is this suggesting, on the other hand, that the World Bank wasn't living up to its mandate and it needs someone like Wolfowitz to get it in shape?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he has been an agent for change at the World Bank and they're -- you will find arguments on both sides of this. You will hear arguments from some saying, "Oh, no, perfectly fine, thank you very much, we don't need any change here. You know, we were created 50 years ago and there's no need to change the way we do business."

On the other hand, there is an argument that while the world has changed and you might look at it different -- incorporating some different ideas and some different thoughts in development models, we have clearly been a strong supporter of the World Bank and the work of the World Bank. There are a lot of competent, experienced professionals at the World Bank who do a great job on behalf of those who really need a lot of help in this world.

But we have also tried to work with the World Bank to try to change some of their approaches in terms of -- give you an example, instead of just issuing loans, provide grants, grants with certain conditions that expect something from the recipient nations, which is very similar to the approach we have taken with the Millennium Challenge Account. We think it's been a pretty effective model and we --

QUESTION: This is a particular innovation that he brought?

MR. MCCORMACK: It wasn't something that Mr. Wolfowitz brought to the World Bank, but -- and I'll let him speak for himself or his folks speak on his behalf as to what programs he has been advocating. I'm just talking about, as the U.S. Government, some of the ideas that we have worked with the World Bank over the past six years, how to look at development, how to make the assistance that the more developed world provides -- how to make that more effective.

And I think that that's been a healthy dialogue, but at the root of it is the idea that an institution of this importance occasionally needs to take a look at how it does business and ask itself the question, how can we do things better. We've made a few suggestions and -- but we're only one voice among many.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Can you give some flavor concerning the Indian nuclear deal of what the Indians' constructive proposals are?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I don't think I'm going to get into any of the particulars right now. I think we'll let the negotiators work through some of the ideas and see what they come up with rather than trying to do it in public.

QUESTION: On Montenegro?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Any readout whether today's meeting between the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the President of Montenegro Filip Vujanovic --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. She was very pleased to meet with the President. They talked a lot about the challenges of a new state, building up the institutions of that new state. She praised the President for his work in helping to build a multiethnic democracy in the Balkans and also praised Montenegrins for their past actions in accepting in those who are fleeing violence in other areas of the Balkans. And she was very pleased to be able to sit down next to him and sign the status of forces agreement. It's certainly a big moment for the Montenegrin people and she was very pleased to be able to participate in that kind of ceremony that marked the moment.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) something. Did the discussion also go into (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: It was -- they did touch on Kosovo and talked about the current state of play with respect to Mr. Ahtisaari's plan and the action -- and the diplomacy that's ongoing now in the Security Council.

QUESTION: And one on Greece, it's in the Balkans again. Tomorrow, the U.S. Government institute (inaudible) center, somebody's going to give a lecture with the title, "The Process of National Identity Formation Among the Macedonian-Speaking Muslims of Western Macedonia."

MR. MCCORMACK: I can see how this has set you off. (Laughter.) It has the word Macedonia in it. (Laughter.) Who's going to give the speech?

QUESTION: Which means clearly Greece. It's (inaudible) -- it's a process. It's (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: Who's going to give the lecture?

QUESTION: Somebody, a professor, Mr. Lucas, somebody.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.

QUESTION: But do you recognize the so-called nonexistent Macedonian language or at least --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know the answer to this question. We -- our position hasn't changed with respect to the name of the sovereign state of Macedonia.

QUESTION: On Montenegro. Do you know -- excuse me. Do you know if Montenegro has signed an Article 98 agreement? And if it has not, is that something that you're trying to get with them now that you've signed a SOFA?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me ask. I don't believe they have, but let me ask, Matt. We're post an answer for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:28 p.m.)



Released on May 1, 2007



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