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Military

Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 21, 2007

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT
Secretary's Travel to Berlin, Vienna and Madrid
U.S. Relations with Spain / Good Opportunity for In Depth Discussions with Spain
Discussions with G-8 Ministers / Iran / Afghanistan / Kosovo / Climate Change
Secretary's Plans for Travel to the Middle East / Not-Too-Distant Future
LEBANON
No Linkage Between Violence and Progress on Hariri Tribunal
Fatah al-Islam / Violent Extremist Group / Leader Tried for Foley Assassination
Lebanese Security Forces Seeking to Establish Law and Order for Lebanese People
Need for the Disarmament of Armed Militias / Resolution 1559
Humanitarian Situation in Refugee Camps / U.S. Concern for Innocent Civilians
ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
Violence in Gaza / Israel's Right to Defend Itself / Loss of Civilian Life
U.S. Counsels Israelis to Take All Possible Actions to Avoid Civilian Casualties
Conversations with Israelis About Recent Violence
Peace Process / Efforts by Abbas to Gain Control of the Security Situation
Importance of Moving Forward on the Political Track
Abrams Comments / Secretary and the President Work Closely on the Middle East
NATO
President's Meeting with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
IRAQ/TURKEY
General Ralston's Efforts to Address PKK Issue
CHINA
Strategic Economic Dialogue / Focus of Dialogue with Department of Treasury
IRAN
Fifth Formal Communication with the Iranians on the Levinson Case
IRAQ
Composition of Forces in Iraq
Ultimate Goal for Iraqis to Take Complete Control of Security


TRANSCRIPT:

1:00 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I have one short travel related statement for you and then we can get into your questions. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Berlin, Vienna and Madrid from May 29th to June 1st, 2007. May 30th Secretary Rice will attend the G-8 Foreign Ministerial in Potsdam, Germany. On May 31st, she'll travel to Vienna for the Women's Empowerment Strategy Group and Roundtable on Networking for Peace and Security in the Middle East. And on June 1st she will travel to Madrid for meetings with Spanish officials. With that, we can get right into your questions.

Okay, good.

QUESTION: It will be her first visit in Spain since --

MR. MCCORMACK: I believe so. As Secretary of State, yes.

QUESTION: Is it the sign of a new relation with the Socialist government of Spain?

MR. MCCORMACK: We work well together with the Spanish Government on a variety of different issues ranging from trade to counterterrorism, to transatlantic relations, so this is just an opportunity for her to sit down with Foreign Minister Moratinos as well as other members of the Spanish Government to talk through those issues.

QUESTION: But the relations have not been always excellent with the Spanish Government.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, every relationship has some bumps in the road, but you work through those in a respectful way and try to build up mutual understandings so you don't talk past one another and this is a good opportunity to have a little more in-depth discussion than they usually do, either on the side of a NATO meeting or a G-8 meeting or some of the other conferences around the world. So this is a opportunity for them to have a little more -- a little longer discussion.

QUESTION: And by the way, this -- in the -- beside the G-8, do you think there will be some other meetings?

MR. MCCORMACK: There probably are going to be a lot of bilats and other side meetings, so let -- we'll -- as we get closer to that actual event, as the schedule is shifting, as other people's schedules are shifting -- it's like doing three-dimensional chess, trying to line up the various schedules here -- but as we get closer, we'll fill you in on all the meetings that we have planned.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary plan to stay overnight in Madrid or is it just a fleeting quick in and out?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's just going to be several hours. I don't think we're -- unfortunately, we are not going to be staying in Madrid. For those of us who know and love Madrid, that's unfortunate, but maybe next time.

QUESTION: And do you have anymore details on the Women's Empowerment meeting and --

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll get you some more. This is a follow-up to the meeting that she had previously with this group up in New York and it's a great gathering where she's able to get together with these women leaders from around the world. This particular one is going to be focusing on the Middle East, but we'll have some more details for you as we get closer.

QUESTION: That's the (inaudible) one, wasn't it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Yeah.

QUESTION: And also, this trip happens just at the same time as a meeting scheduled between Solana and Larijani.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Do you think the Iranian nuclear program will come up in the discussions?

MR. MCCORMACK: At the G-8?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: I'm sure that -- I'm sure that it will. I can't tell you exactly when Mr. Solana is going to have his meeting. It could be earlier. I'll leave it up to him to describe when it will be. He is fully empowered to, you know, use his judgment as the scheduling of it. But I'm sure at the G-8 meeting that Iran will be a topic of heavy discussion. I assume other topics as well -- Iran, Afghanistan, Kosovo. Issues like climate change, I'm sure, will come up and there will be a discussion. This, of course, is a ministerial meeting that is being held in the run-up to the G-8 summit which is going to be happening in the beginning of June. The President will attend that. So there's going to be a wide variety of issues that they cover and you can take a look at what has been on the G-8 agenda that's been put out by the Germans. I expect they'd hit at least all of those topics, if not more.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: This is about the violence in Lebanon.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Could you talk about how you view what's going on in the camps? Do you think there's any relation to what's going on with U.S. and international efforts to push through the tribunal?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. At this point, we don't see any linkage between the lashing out of this particular group, Fatah al-Islam, against the Lebanese people and the Lebanese armed forces, any link between that and efforts to move forward the international tribunal.

I know that there's been -- I know that there's been some talk about that in the press, but I can't substantiate that for you. If there is any other information that develops over time, we'll update our assessment, but nothing at this point.

QUESTION: How do you view the violence in this camp going on right now? I mean, there have been some kind of analysts and officials on background that said that this is some of the Islamic extremists have moved from Iraq to Lebanon to take advantage of the vulnerability of the political situation in Lebanon to try and train more Islamic extremists.

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you. I can't verify that. This is a group that has al-Qaida affiliations. And just one interesting note for you: the leader of this group is actually somebody who was tried in absentia in Jordan for the murder of Laurence Foley. The other person that was indicated or convicted of that was Zarqawi.

So this is a group of people that will use violence, use terror, in order to achieve whatever ends that they are hoping to achieve. And they have managed to embed themselves in this Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, essentially using it as a base of operations. Now, as I understand it, the current violence in Lebanon first started when there was a bank robbery attempt -- and I can't tell you whether or not it was successful -- by members of this organization. Rightfully so, the Lebanese security forces reacted to that, and that was the beginning of this -- these battles between the Lebanese military and this group of violent extremists. And what you're seeing is ongoing battles right now.

But clearly, the Lebanese security forces, the Lebanese armed forces, are operating well within the established norms and within the laws of Lebanon, seeking to reestablish security for the Lebanese people.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, has there been any phone calls of note from this building to any Lebanese officials?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, not that I'm aware of, no.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Some have speculated there may be a Syrian hand in this. Do you see that at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, I know; I've seen those reports. I can't verify that for you. Again, as I said with Elise, nothing I can -- nothing that I have substantiates that at this point. We'll see as information develops, but this is a dangerous, violent group of people that unfortunately, for some of the innocent civilians, need to be dealt with, with use of force. Lebanese armed forces are reacting admirably. I know it's a difficult situation anytime you have these terrorist, violent extremist elements embedded in civilian populations wherever they may be. But the Lebanese armed forces are doing an admirable job in working on behalf of the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese people to try to bring law and order back to this area of Lebanon. And it's well within their rights to do so.

And the other thing it highlights is the fact that the Security Council resolutions that exist out there, especially 1559, which calls for the disarmament of armed militias, need to be carried forward. This is just one example of why that is so important. You have these small groups and sometimes not-so-small groups that are able, of their own volition, on their own timetable, to create an unstable situation in the country; in this case, in Lebanon.

And unfortunately, when this happens, sometimes innocent civilians lose their lives and we mourn the loss of innocent civilian life, but it's important that these groups be dealt with.

QUESTION: How concerned are you about the humanitarian situation in the camps right now?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's a lot of ongoing fighting right now, so we can't -- we don't obviously have a presence there. I know that the UN does have a presence there and they will go in and make an assessment of the humanitarian situation and in any of these cases, we're always concerned about innocent civilians. I know that the Red Cross was able to get in there and remove some wounded during a break in the fighting. And that's important that the innocents in all of this are able to be cared for and that they continue to have their needs provided for.

So it's a hard situation, but let's make it clear that these are -- these people in this group are not petty criminals. These are hardened, violent extremists that will use the most despicable means of violence in order to achieve their ends. And I would just point out that the representative of the PLO in Lebanon also denounced this particular group and actually called upon the innocent Palestinians in this refugee camp to disassociate themselves from this group; in essence, try to get them out of that camp because they understand how destructive these kinds of violent extremist groups are to the fabric of society.

QUESTION: Any comment on the Israeli air attacks in Gaza?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I understand that they're having some ongoing attacks with the Israeli Government seeking to defend itself against those individuals and cells that are launching Qassam rockets against Israeli populations. They continue to fall in and around Israeli towns. And Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself. In the course of those actions, I understand that there has been loss of innocent life. And it's -- and again, it points out the difficulty of trying to go after those who will use violent extremism, use terror, against innocent civilian populations and then embed themselves in another innocent civilian population. We saw a lot of this with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

So these are extremely difficult situations for governments and security forces to deal with. And as we have done with the Israeli Government, we have counseled them to use all caution and all possible -- take all possible actions in order to avoid any civilian casualties, to avoid any undue damage to the Palestinian infrastructure, and always to consider the effects of their actions on the political process, the Israeli-Palestinian track, and moving that -- and moving that forward.

QUESTION: Speaking -- well, two questions. One, when have you cautioned them to avoid civilian --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've done it numerous times in public. I can't tell you --

QUESTION: Lately, in connection with the most recent attacks in Gaza?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you what private conversations we've had with them. I don't have a catalog of those. But I have -- I've done it from this podium. I know others have done it as well in public.

QUESTION: No, no, no, I'm just checking because I want to know if -- I mean, you volunteered that and I want to know if you've done that in connection with the latest violence or if not. Can you check that? It would be interesting. But if you've done it --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll see if -- I'll see if there's been any conversations. I'm sure that we've had conversations with the Israelis about the latest round of violence. I can't say if that specifically has been a message, but it's something that we consistently do both in public and in private.

QUESTION: And then to follow up on something else you said, what effect do you think this has on your efforts to nurture and sustain an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue on peace?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what it underscores is that there are groups and individuals who will seek to derail such efforts, and unfortunately the people who lose in that are the Palestinian people who want a -- who want their own state, who want to try to live normal lives. And nobody can argue with that. It is those Palestinians who want to seek a Palestinian state via the negotiating table who need to step forward. In this case, President Abbas has done so. He's doing everything that he can to tamp down the violence. Nobody wants to see intra-Palestinian violence. Nobody wants to see innocent civilians caught in a crossfire. And we believe that he is absolutely responsible in doing everything that he can in order to get a hold of the security situation there.

Now, the forces that answer directly to him at this point haven't been able to do that completely. We understand that. The evidence of that is the continued launching of these Qassam rockets. But that is why we're working with him and working with responsible individuals who report to him in order to better train up and equip his forces so that he can exercise that control over all of the Palestinian areas.

So to circle back to your original question, what it does is it underscores the importance of continuing to move forward on the political track, doing everything that you can in order to bridge differences and bring parties together, and shore up those efforts that will bring better security and law and order to the Palestinian areas. That's not only good for the political process, it's good for the everyday lives of Palestinians. I'm sure it's a very difficult situation for them.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) two months since the Secretary went to the region to talk about these matters and we're now at the end of May. It doesn't seem likely she's going to go there this month. Does she have any plans to go anytime soon?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would leave it where I left it recently; in the not-too-distant future, she will -- I'm -- she will be traveling to the Middle East. I can't give you an exact date right now.

QUESTION: The Ambassador of Israel here in Washington said on Friday that the situation in the Gaza Strip was such that Israel could take other measures and another official said the other measures could be that they could reoccupy the Gaza Strip.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Do you think it would be a good idea?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I took a look at his remarks and I think that -- you know, I'm not -- I am not in a position to offer any elaboration or further clarification on his remarks. I think you can seek that from him or from the Israeli Embassy. I would just reiterate what I've said before about any actions that Israel might take in its own self-defense.

QUESTION: And when they say they may be -- they may have to kill some Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, do you think it's a good idea?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, the same would apply.

Yeah, Nicholas.

QUESTION: I don't think this came up on Friday, Sean, but if it did, I apologize. But there was a report last week, I think on Thursday, that there have been a failed attempt on President Abbas' life.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: A trip to Gaza was cancelled because apparently, a tunnel was found underground. Have you seen those? How credible do you think they are?

MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen the reports. I think the Palestinians themselves have denied those reports, but they would be in the best position, I think, to address those reports.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about some comments made by Elliott Abrams to a group of Jewish Republicans suggesting that Secretary Rice's efforts in the Middle East were not actually going anywhere and that -- perhaps that she didn't have the full backing of the President in the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I can't tell you whether or not Elliott was accurately quoted. You can talk to him and the White House about that. But you know, both he and everybody else can understand how closely the Secretary and the President work together on the Middle East, whether that's on strategy or tactics. When you're hearing from her about Middle -- plans for Middle East peace to move the process forward, whether that be on strategy, objectives, or tactics, you're hearing from the President as well. She speaks for the President and I don't think there's -- I don't think, for anybody that actually follows this issue closely, that there's any confusion about that, certainly not within the U.S. Government.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On the NATO Secretary General, Mr. McCormack. Earlier today, President Bush met in Crawford, Texas with the NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and discussed inter alia the Kosovo issue and the Balkans as I was told with the presence of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I'm wondering --

MR. MCCORMACK: I was wondering how you were going to bring that back to me, since it was a meeting with the President.

QUESTION: I'm wondering if the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is going to have a separate meeting with the NATO Secretary General.

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you. I'm sure that they -- I'm sure they'll talk on the side. I don't think there's any scheduled bilateral for them, separate and apart from the meeting with the President. They talk all the time, though, Lambros.

QUESTION: And one more question. President Bush will be in Tirana, Albania June 10th and in Sofia, Bulgaria 10th and 11th. Do you know if Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will accompany the President for those two --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe she's going to be on that trip.

QUESTION: Sean, do you know if the Deputy Secretary will be there or Dan Fried --

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you exactly who's going to be with the traveling party. We'll have a high-level of representation with -- traveling with the President.

Yes.

QUESTION: On the PKK, General Ralston's Turkish counterpart, General Baser, was removed from his post by the government earlier today and was replaced by diplomats. Do you have any comments and how would this affect General Ralston's efforts or are there any planned talks in the foreseeable future?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly, the efforts continue and General Ralston's efforts will continue. It's too important not to keep at this issue because understandably, in Turkey, this is a -- it's a very emotional issue. It also has very practical, real world concerns. We share those real world concerns. We also -- we -- Turkey and Iraq are neighbors and that situation is not going to change, so it's -- we believe in everybody's interest to try to work together cooperatively to address such issues, especially one that is of such concern to the Turkish Government and frankly to us as well. As for the mechanics of General Ralston's work, I haven't talked with him about his thoughts on having a new counterpart, but I'm sure that the Turkish Government will continue to engage seriously on this issue. Certainly, we are and I would expect that the Iraqi Government would as well.

QUESTION: A follow-up. Before his removal, General Baser had been criticizing the anti-PKK process in place, saying it wasn't going anywhere. Anything you can say?

MR. MCCORMACK: He's entitled to his remarks. But certainly, we are worried not only about the political part to this as well, but the practical, real world part of it, and that is making sure that a terrorist organization isn't able to perpetrate acts of terror, whether that's in Turkey or elsewhere.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue, Vice Premier Wu Yi landed at Andrews Air Force Base this morning and Deputy Secretary Negroponte is also participating in the meetings. What is the Administration hoping to accomplish over the next couple of days?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Department of Treasury has the -- will have the lead on this. I know Secretary Paulson has been deeply involved in the Strategic Economic Dialogue. It is to talk about the range of economic and trade issues that we have between the United States and China. It's a big and growing relationship. As for our part, I'm sure the Secretary will take the opportunity to raise some important political issues that we are also working on with China, whether that's Iran and North Korea or Sudan.

But the focus of the dialogue is really with Secretary Paulson and his team. We're going to contribute to that. Deputy Secretary Negroponte is going to be participating in these meetings as well, and Secretary Rice will co-host or host a dinner upstairs tomorrow night in the Franklin Room for the members of the -- for the SED.

QUESTION: I know that the Treasury has the lead on this, but just in broad terms can you outline what outcome you might hope to have by the end of the week?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm going to leave that to my Treasury colleagues since they have the lead on the issue.

Yeah.

QUESTION: UNHCR just reported that over 55,000 Afghan refugees have been deported from Iran since late April, in the past month. Do you have any comment on these deportations?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me look into it.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Have you had any response from the Iranians on Levinson?

MR. MCCORMACK: Late last week, we talked a little bit about another dip note that we had sent to them, our fifth formal communication -- third formal diplomatic note to them, but we have not received any response to them. We -- the last formal response we received from the Iranians, I think, was on April 18th but nothing new.

Yeah, George.

QUESTION: President Musharraf has suggested that the best way to bring stability to Iraq is through the creation of a Muslim force, presumably to replace the existing forces.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: This idea has come up before.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Do you have thoughts on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, ultimately who is in Iraq helping the Iraqis bring some greater stability to their own country is going to be up to them. Currently though, everybody agrees that the best composition and way to -- composition of a force to do that is via a Security Council resolution that's now embodied by the multinational force that's on the ground. I can't tell you if in the future there is -- it's going to be a different composition to that force to include more Muslim forces or not.

The ultimate goal here, though, is to not have any foreign forces or as few foreign forces in Iraq as possible and have them take complete control for their own security. They're not there yet. But I haven't heard the Iraqi Government comment on this particular proposal yet, George.

Yes.

QUESTION: It seems President Talibani is in the United States for some health-related purposes and it also seems he will be staying here for some three weeks or something. Do you think he will also be visiting Washington for talks here?

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, I don't think there are any scheduled meetings, but we'll keep you up to date if there any.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right, great.

(The briefing was concluded 1:24 p.m.)

DPB # 91


Released on May 21, 2007



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