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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 18, 2007


Secretary Rice's Calls to Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas
Continuing Violence in Gaza /Hamas Attacks on Israelis and Palestinians / US Calls for End to Violence
New French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
Prospects for Secretary Rice to Call Foreign Minister/ Visit France
No Plans for Assistant Secretary Hill to Travel to Pyongyang
China's Proposal for Joint China-ASEAN Military Exercises
US Congressional Immigration Plan
Nomination Process for Appointment of World Bank President
Draft UN Security Council Resolution to Establish Special Tribunal for Lebanon
Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora's Letter to UN Secretary General Ban
Upcoming Lebanese Presidential Elections


12:37 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Hello, everybody. Welcome to Friday. No statements to open up with. You can get right to your questions.

QUESTION: Do you have any details on the call that Secretary Rice had with President Abbas this morning? Apparently, according to Palestinian radio he phoned her.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they're a day late. She had one yesterday.

QUESTION: Well, apparently he has asked her to halt the Israeli -- what he calls military escalation.


QUESTION: And it was a -- they said it was a call today. I know that she made one yesterday.

MR. MCCORMACK: No. They spoke yesterday morning. She spoke with President Abbas as well as Prime Minister Olmert. They talked about the situation on the ground there. I'm not going to get into any of the details of it. But suffice it to say that she as well as the rest of the U.S. Government wants to see an end to the violence, a reduction in the violence because the victims here are the Palestinian people, innocent Palestinian people. And we believe President Abbas is doing everything that he can in order to bring order back to the Gaza Strip.

Let's remember how all this started. This all started with Hamas not only attacking the legitimate security forces in the Gaza Strip, but also starting a stepped-up campaign of rocket launches against Israel. So they are the culprits in terms of this new wave of violence. We want to see an end to the violence as does everybody else. We are quite concerned about the Palestinian people. But the way to bring this about is for Hamas to start making those decisions that the international community has asked them to make and also to support President Abbas in his efforts to bring not only order to the Gaza Strip, but also to preserve and extend the possibilities for the Palestinian people in realizing a Palestinian state via the negotiating table.

QUESTION: But did President Abbas ask the Secretary to appeal to the Israelis to halt the escalation?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to get into the details of the exact back and forth of their call. But let's understand this; the Israeli Government has a right to defend itself. But we have made it clear to them that it's important that in doing so they need to take into account the importance of not doing damage to the Palestinian infrastructure, avoiding loss of innocent life, as well as keeping in mind the consequences of their actions on the possibility of moving forward the Israeli-Palestinian track.

Now, over the past several weeks they -- or past months, they have been subject to regular missile attacks against the Israeli people. And during that period of time they had shown great restraint. So it's a very difficult situation in which the victims are innocent people, the Palestinians and Israelis. And the culprit through this new wave of violence is really Hamas and most particularly the so-called military wing of Hamas. They need to bring an end to it. And they also, beyond that, need to take those steps that the international community has asked them to take and that really the Palestinian people want them to take in the name of potentially realizing a Palestinian state.

QUESTION: The U.S. Government last year came under a lot of criticism over your policies in Lebanon during the Lebanon-Israeli war and the decision not to call for an immediate ceasefire. Is there a concern that -- or it appears that if you're not going to be calling for a stop in Israeli action now that you're going to come under the same kind of criticism?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, it's -- part of playing the role in the international system that we play, I suppose, is that everybody first likes to look at the United States and criticize whatever it is that we are or not doing; look, that comes with the territory. But let's remember again, first, in Lebanon how the violence started -- Hezbollah an unprovoked attack into Israeli territory, capturing Israeli soldiers. So let's not lose sight of that. And also let's remember as I've just said how this started. This started with Hamas not only attacking Israel with these Qassam rockets, but also attacking Palestinians. So I can't tell you exactly what their motivations in doing this might be, but it clearly needs to stop.

And in terms of your question about a ceasefire, we have called for an end to the violence. And as I've pointed out, the victims here are innocent Israelis and innocent Palestinians. And so instead of asking the United States about this question, people might do well to put pressure on Hamas to end not only the violence that they have perpetrated and are perpetrating in Gaza and into Israel via the Qassam rockets, but also put pressure on them to end the use of terror as a tactic. This is what the international system has asked them to do. And I think we need to continually focus the spotlight on the fact that it is Hamas that is responsible for this violence.

QUESTION: Another subject.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. You have the floor.

QUESTION: Going back to the French Government.


QUESTION: Did the Secretary call the new Prime Minister?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not yet. Don't have -- I'll let you know when the call takes place. But she looks forward to working with Foreign Minister Kouchner. And as I said earlier this morning, we as the U.S. Government have experience working with them. He's a prominent figure on the international scene and we as a U.S. Government have also -- we worked well with him during the Balkans crises back in the '90s. And Secretary Rice, I talked to her about it, she looks forward to working with him.

There's a lot on the table for the U.S. and France, in terms of being able to address issues of mutual concern around the globe, whether that's Iran or the Middle East or dealing with poverty alleviation in Africa or climate change. And there's a whole host of issues around the globe that concern both our countries and, of course, there's a very strong bilateral relationship there that the Secretary looks forward to continuing with her new counterpart.

QUESTION: The Secretary will be next week in Europe for a G-8 ministerial. Does she plan to visit the French -- new French Government?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure that she plans on visiting France and seeing members of the new French Government when there's a mutually convenient time. I know that she does look forward to doing that, and we'll keep you up to date on travel plans. But she does look forward to visiting Paris at some point.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: According to the Washington Times today, Chris Hill trip to Pyongyang next month. Can you confirm?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, he has no plans at this point to travel to Pyongyang. We -- what he's looking forward to now is seeing the BDA issue in our rearview mirror and then getting back to the six-party talks in Beijing. So that's his immediate agenda on the horizon, but he has no travel plans at this point to go to Pyongyang.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces in the Pacific, John Goodman, recently said that China's proposals for joint China-ASEAN military exercises was a positive overture.


QUESTION: I was wondering if that reflects official U.S. position.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I have no reason to doubt that it does, but let me check with our folks who monitor this stuff on a daily basis. We'll get you an answer; I just haven't -- I hadn't seen that report. So we'll get you an answer.



QUESTION: Sean, on immigration issues, we see most of the activity, especially in Congress yesterday, was associated with everything below the Texas, New Mexico and California borders. But it also involves people from Eastern Europe and Asia. Have you heard from any embassies and are you getting a feel for what people in other locations are saying with respect to some of the visa requirements, if there's going to be a change?

MR. MCCORMACK: Haven't heard anything, Joel. This is a deal that's been worked out with the Senate, and President Bush made very clear our support for this bill that's also going to go through the regular legislative process with the House. I'm not sure that we've actually even gone out to other embassies to talk about it at this point because it's still relatively early in the legislative process and I'm not aware of anybody coming to us asking about it.

Yeah. Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. Do you expect this passing of the draft resolution about the special tribunal of the Hariri assassination?

MR. MCCORMACK: How quickly is it going to be moving?


MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you exactly how quickly this is going to move through the Security Council. I think a lot of your colleagues here will tell you that I never make predictions of exactly when either: (a) something will be tabled or (b) voted on and passed. But there are discussions ongoing right now up in New York, right now meeting over the past couple of days about a draft resolution. The important elements of it are that: (a) the tribunal move forward and (b) that we preserve the Lebanese nature of the tribunal. These are things that are enshrined in the draft resolution that we have. I expect that maybe next week, as early as next week, that we'll see a first draft circulated among members of the Security Council.

You know, I can't tell you exactly what sort of opinions individual states are going to have on it. I'm sure that there will be a variety of different views. But we believe that it is important to move forward with the tribunal. We believe that in the wake of Prime Minister Siniora's letter to Secretary General Ban at the Security Council passage of a Security Council resolution is the right venue as well as mechanism to move the tribunal process forward. And I expect at this point that there's a fair bit of support for that view within the Security Council. I think that once we have this draft resolution circulated, that you're going to see actually quite a bit of support for not only the Security Council as the venue for moving this forward, but the resolution as the mechanism to do so.


QUESTION: Following the visit of Mr. Welch, are you concerned about the escalation of the political crisis after the tribunal pass?

MR. MCCORMACK: The -- I'm sorry, I didn't hear.

QUESTION: I mean, do you feel like escalation of the political crisis in Lebanon after the passage of tribunal?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Prime Minister Siniora has been extraordinary in his leadership of the Lebanese Government during a very difficult time in Lebanese history here. It -- in the face of a threat of violence and intimidation, he has stuck fast to the principles of political reform and democracy in Lebanon as well as stuck fast to the principle of Lebanese sovereignty. He's been a great defender of Lebanese independence in the face of a great deal of pressure from not only internal, but external forces. There's going to be a presidential election coming up this fall in Lebanon. Who is nominated to run for president and who ultimately is elected are going to be decisions for Lebanese political leadership and the Lebanese people. We are firm supporters of Lebanon's democracy and firm supporters of Lebanese independence and sovereignty. And I would expect that the next president of Lebanon would be someone who is no less a supporter of those ideals and those principles. But ultimately, it is going to be up to the Lebanese people, the Lebanese political leadership to decide on who is going to lead them as president.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: On Wolfowitz, please. Can you tell me about the current efforts to appoint a successor and the extent of the State Department's involvement in that, if any?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the lead on this is Secretary of Treasury Paulson. He's in the process of collecting some names that he will forward to the President for the President's consideration of who the President will nominate as the next president of the World Bank.

I can't tell you whether or not the State Department has played any formal role in that process. Secretary Rice, I'm sure, will offer her views if she's asked either by the President or Secretary Paulson about this. And she may also have some thoughts that she'll offer up on her own. I haven't talked to her and asked her whether or not she has any names in mind that she has suggested to Secretary Paulson. In any case, even if I -- she did have names, I'm sure we -- at this point, we wouldn't share them.

But the President is committed and Secretary Paulson is committed to forwarding names of people who are well-qualified and who would merit selection and nomination as the next president of the World Bank.

QUESTION: Do you think this whole episode has damaged the bank's reputation?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I can't tell you whether or not it's damaged the reputation of the World Bank on the international scene. Certainly, it's been a very trying period for the bank and -- you know, President Bush talked about it and he's sorry that it came to this because Paul Wolfowitz is a good man who is committed to fighting poverty around the world. He is committed to lifting up those most in need around the world. But it's been a very difficult, difficult couple of months while this whole episode has played out.

The World Bank is an important institution and there are a lot of very, very capable skilled professionals who work there and obviously, we can all benefit from their expertise and I think they can also benefit from perspectives of others on the outside who might have different ideas about how to go about the work of poverty alleviation and development. The United States has a few of those ideas, talking about making grant vis loans. And there's now a mixture of that, more of a mixture at the World Bank and that's healthy.

But it's an important institution. There are a lot of people there who are skilled professionals who should be proud of the work that they do and it's in -- you know, the World Bank, I expect, will continue to be an important institution in the international system concerned with issues of poverty alleviation and development.

QUESTION: And does America traditionally have the right to appoint the president? Is that how it works?

MR. MCCORMACK: That has been the tradition, that the United States President has appointed a person to that job and that traditionally has been an American.

QUESTION: And was there any issue about this when you were talking to European leaders about whether this would -- this tradition would continue in view of what's happened?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure. In Secretary Rice's phone calls, that didn't come up.


QUESTION: Over at the World Bank, is it conceivable, possibly never having thought it possible, but to perhaps ask outgoing Foreign Minister Tony Blair to perhaps become the World Bank president? Could that conceivably happen?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know that he's looking for the job and I'm not sure that anybody's suggested that. I've seen it floating around in the media, but I'm not sure that that's been a point of discussion.


QUESTION: Do you think that Bob Zoellick would be a good choice? I mean, do you think he has the right characteristics?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) You know, look, I'm not going to get in the position of nominating people for jobs I'm not sure that they want. But Bob Zoellick obviously is a very -- aside from the question of whether or not he would make a good president of the World Bank, not for me to speak of, but he is obviously a great diplomat and somebody with deep experience in these issues.

Okay, thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:52 p.m.)

DPB # 90

Released on May 18, 2007

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