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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
June 19, 2007


Passport Backlog / Response to Letter by Senators
Passport Requirements for Other Countries
Meetings between Solana and Larijani on Suspension of Nuclear Program
Isolation of Iranian Government
Possibility of Additional Sanctions Resolution / U.S. in early stages of talks with Allies
Threat of Iran Using Oil as Tool
Aid to Palestinians
Abbas's Actions Lawful under Palestinian Constitution
U.S. Concern for Humanitarian Situation in Gaza
Palestinian People Must Choose Own Pathway
Leadership of Abbas in the Face of Extremists
Staffing of Embassy Baghdad / Ambassador Crocker's Call for Experienced Employees / Arabic Language Abilities
Recruiting Foreign Service Officers for Baghdad Service
First Lady Laura Bush's Remarks on Birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi / Human Rights
U.S. Will Work within Six-Party Talk Framework
U.S. Opposes Taiwan's Membership in UN and Other Organizations that Require Statehood


12:50p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. How's it going?

QUESTION: It's freezing in here.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Sorry. No opening statements, so we can get right into questions, whoever wants to start off?


MR. MCCORMACK: Libby, jump into the fray.

QUESTION: I have some passport questions. I understand Maura Harty will be on the Hill later, but just a few for you.

MR. MCCORMACK: And so you don't want to leave any of these questions for Maura?

QUESTION: We have a 24-hour news cycle, as you know.

Senator Lieberman and others sent a letter to Secretary Rice yesterday with their concerns about the backlog of passports and they asked for several things to be done -- to cease the fees for expedited service and also to ensure that after September 30th passport processing is back to normal.


QUESTION: So any response to that letter?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as for the specifics of it, I'm going to leave it to Maura to talk about those. But let me just tell you that this is something the Secretary is personally interested in. She has convened members of her team on this issue multiple times over the past several months to talk about ways the State Department can meet the obligation that it has laid out for itself in terms of processing turnaround time to ensure that people can safely and efficiently keep up with their travel plans. I know that recently that hasn't been the case, and as a result we worked with Homeland Security on some workarounds for travel to Mexico, Canada, as well as the Caribbean. And we believe that that helped out quite a few people.

The task now is to completely work through this backlog as quickly as we possibly can, and we have opened up at least one new passport processing center. It's up and running. It is churning out passports according to U.S. laws and regulations. So it is something the Secretary wants to make sure that we are on top of and she wants to see this backlog eliminated as quickly as possible. And I think Maura will talk a little bit more up on the Hill how exactly we're going to do this, and she might be also able to offer some answers on some of the specific questions that Senator Lieberman had.

QUESTION: What about these reports that as early as, I mean, you know, last November that the State Department knew that demand was going to exceed the projections that you had made, and that the State Department didn't do enough to head off what they saw was a --

MR. MCCORMACK: That I don't have the facts on it, Libby. I think everybody understood that there was going to be a bow wave here because of the law that Congress had passed. As for when people understood that the demand might exceed the ability to produce the passports, I cannot tell you. I do not know the answer to that question.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know -- one more. Just one more question. What consultations are you having with other governments about easing their own restrictions about entry into the countries? You know there's reports that travelers were confused, that they got to their -- that they needed their birth certificates and didn't know and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Any time you have -- no good deed goes unpunished sometimes -- whenever you have changes to rules and regulations that are longstanding, oftentimes you will get these sorts of points of confusion, shall I say. We've been talking to the travel industry, we have been talking to foreign governments to make sure that people get in hand the information that they need in order to complete their travel, both going there and coming back here to the United States.

So while we want to make sure that everybody can get to their travel destinations, sometimes as a result of those efforts there -- when -- and in changing the rules sometimes, you know, there is a bit of confusion, but we try to work through that as quickly as we could.


QUESTION: Apparently, Solana is going to be meeting with Larijani on the 23rd.


QUESTION: What can he possibly talk with the Iranians about that would make any difference?


QUESTION: I mean this is a repeated process.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the idea here is, Carol, that one hopes that the Iranian Government and the Iranian regime starts to do a different cost-benefit analysis here. Clearly, they are much more isolated than they were one year ago. Well, why does that matter? People say, "So they're isolated." Well, being isolated comes with real costs and some of those costs are in the form of their banks not being able to do business in the international financial system now, which raises the costs for those banks, for the Iranian Government to do business, which imposes costs, unfortunately, on the Iranian people.

We don't -- we want to try to avoid any hardship on the Iranian people, but very clearly, this is not of great concern to the Iranian Government because they are not willing to take us up on the offer that's been put out before them. So the idea is we're going to continue, through Mr. Solana, talking to the Iranian Government, encouraging them to find some way to say yes. And that involves, very simply, finding some way to suspend their uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities in order to get into negotiations.

We want that to happen. We want that to be the case. We want to get to a point where the Iranian people can have peaceful nuclear power, civilian nuclear power with objective guarantees that the international community feels comfortable with so that you don't have technology or materials or know-how being diverted to a nuclear weapons program. That's where we want to get to.

QUESTION: But there is no indication that Larijani is coming to this meeting with anything new, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: You don't know until you sit down there and talk to him. It's an opaque government. It's an opaque decision-making process. So the hope is that we can continue to engage with them and make it very clear that there is more coming, there are more sanctions coming, there are more Security Council resolutions coming. It's not our choice; it's not the choice of the international system.

So fundamentally, we hope that at one of these meetings that the conversation from the Iranians will be different and that they will have made a different cost-benefit analysis -- it's just not worth it; we can realize what we say we want to realize, which is a peaceful nuclear energy program really at no cost to us and we can realize a great many benefits, including being able to sit down across from the United States in a multilateral negotiation -- something that they say they want to do -- to talk about whatever they want to talk about.

QUESTION: Have you started to draft a third sanctions resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: We are in consultations with our allies in the Security Council as well as within the P-5+1 on what elements might constitute a resolution. So we're at a very -- the very early stages of that process right now. We've had some discussions. Nick Burns, as part of his travel, I think last week or the week before, to Paris was primarily concerned with the issue of Kosovo, but they also did have some informal consultations on the issue of a new sanctions resolution. So we're talking about elements of it right now.

QUESTION: Are there any specific timelines before some sanctions could be drawn up? Are you doing then basically an open kind of a thing for them to continue doing?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have a timeline for you. The discussions on what might be part of a sanctions resolution, how we might approach a sanctions resolution have begun, but that's as far as we have traveled down that pathway. I never, ever get into timelines when talking about Security Council actions.


QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on Iraq?

Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: On a slightly different angle. But we've had pretty much a threat from Iran's OPEC governor saying that Iran could potentially use oil as a tool, he describes it, stopping exports to world markets, interfering with traffic on the Hormuz Straits. How seriously do you take this threat? Is this something you're very concerned about?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, any time you have officials of a sovereign country making serious threats you always have to stand up and pay attention. For example, when the President of Iran talks about wiping another country off the face of the map, you pay attention to that.

We have made it quite clear our views with respect to the world oil markets that the market should set those prices. As for keeping that waterway open, I think that we in various parts of the U.S. Government have made it very clear that this should be an area of free transit of commerce. It's an important waterway for the entire world and we have a great strategic interest in making sure that that happens.

QUESTION: And what about Iraq? Obviously, it is strategically located near the oil fields of Saudi, Iraq, UAE, are you worried about a potential threat to oil fields as well as the waterways?

MR. MCCORMACK: Threats to the oil fields?

QUESTION: Oil fields, yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't heard any indication that the Iranian Government intends to attack the oil fields of another country. It's not something that I have heard and I know that those countries obviously watch closely the security around the oil fields and the oil reprocessing -- and the oil processing facilities, but I hadn't heard any sort of threat like that from the Iranians.

QUESTION: Okay, back to the waterways briefly. Is the Navy taking any special -- do they have a contingency plan for this kind of threat?

MR. MCCORMACK: Talk to the folks at DOD and the Navy. Our military is traditionally very well prepared. They plan for a variety of different contingencies. I can't tell you if this is one of them.

Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, do you have any update on a possible Quartet meeting -- have you already talked about this?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, haven't talked about it yet. We're taking a look at where and when the Quartet might get together. No final decisions on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And the discussion that we had this morning, on the brief -- about work on the Hill in terms of the restructuring of the --

MR. MCCORMACK: We're going to put out a little fact sheet for you, kind of what the breakdown of where the money is currently intended to go. I checked with our folks and they have not begun a formal consultation with the Hill on moving that money around. I expect that that's going to happen in the coming days, so I can't tell you exactly when. We still have a little bit more work to do internally here to determine where we want to direct those funds. Part of that is going to involve talking to the Palestinians.

QUESTION: Okay. And how much of it or any of it -- of the restructuring at all will be contingent on Abbas actually doing something, moving back towards a -- taking some kind of a democratic step, which I understand he has 60 days?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, our view is that President Abbas took a lawful step under the Palestinian constitution and we are going to let the Palestinians interpret their laws and their constitution. But I think it's widely agreed that, except for Hamas of course, that this is a lawful step and we believe it is a lawful step. The Secretary got asked this question about, well, what comes after 30 days or 60 days. And I think she gave you an answer on that.


QUESTION: Is this about this directly, Sylvie?

QUESTION: It's about the Palestinians.

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Did you see the stories about 200 Palestinians stranded in Gaza.


QUESTION: They want to leave the Gaza Strip and they are not allowed. Do you have any comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: Prime Minister Olmert addressed it in his press avail with President Bush.

QUESTION: Do you have --

MR. MCCORMACK: I would refer you to his comments.

QUESTION: So U.S. doesn't have any comment other than Israeli?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have a great deal of concern for the humanitarian situation in Gaza, clearly. That's not only a rhetorical commitment, but that is a commitment that we're backing up with resources.

Now, as for the movement of these individuals, I think that that is something the Israeli Government has said, in the form of Prime Minister Olmert, that they are going to look at on a case-by-case basis.


QUESTION: Just on President Abbas, you've talked about taking steps to strengthen him, kind of recognize that right now his credibility in the Palestinian territories isn't what it could be, but there are some that say that part of the reason that he's weak right now is because the U.S. hasn't taken enough steps to help strengthen him all along and has contributed, in a sense, to his weakness; that he's been asking for things over the last several years that you haven't been able to deliver.

MR. MCCORMACK: We have supported President Abbas and his program of reform of the Palestinian Government from the very, very beginning. We've done it with resources. We've done it with diplomatic support. We've done it directly with President Abbas and his government.

Fundamentally, however, regardless of support from the United States or Arab states or others, the Palestinian people are going to have to come together and make a decision about what pathway they want to go down. Do they want to realize a Palestine? Do they want to go down the pathway of Hamas, which means no Palestinian state and not a future of greater prosperity, greater freedoms or greater democracy?

So we have from the very beginning supported President Abbas. We are going to continue to support him. We've made that very clear. But ultimately, it is going to be up to the Palestinian people to define their political future for themselves.

QUESTION: If I could just broaden it out a little, I mean, some of the -- we've talked in these briefings about the fact that he's been unable to take certain steps because of his position at home. And if you look around the region, there are several other leaders that you're working with that are in almost the same position, like Siniora in Lebanon, Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq, in the sense that these are weak leaders that you're dealing with in the region. And do you think that their weakness and your reluctance to push them to take actions because of their weakness at home is hurting the region and not stabilizing in the way that you'd like to see?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would take issue with your description of these individuals. We think they're strong leaders who are up against forces that want to undermine their vision for a better future for their people, whether that's in Lebanon or Iraq or the Palestinian areas. And they're fighting against violent extremists who will stop at nothing to try to reverse any gains that they have made. So despite these pressures and these challenges from without and from within, these are strong leaders that are working on behalf of their people for a better future.

And we're going to stand with them. It is going to be a long, long struggle in the Middle East as we work to support forces of democracy, those forces that want a more prosperous, stable region. And it's not going to happen overnight because there are people who are determined, who wake up every single day and think about new ways that they can use violence, threat and intimidation -- terror tactics -- to try to undermine those people who are fighting for a better future.

So we're going to stand by those leaders that you talked about, as well as others. And I would again just take issue with your characterization of them as weak leaders. We believe these are strong leaders who are doing the best that they possibly can in the face of significant obstacles to bring about a better future for their people and, in the case of Lebanon, for their country.

QUESTION: But there have been several instances in which case -- and you've liked the prime minister in Iraq to take steps to crack down on militias. And a lot of them come back to you and say, you know, "Please don't push me that hard. You know my position at home is very precarious." And how do you deal with that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, a couple of things. Look, these are people that are in uncharted territory in the region and in their countries. And they -- as I said, they are up against some pretty serious obstacles. They and we did not find ourselves in this position overnight. We've talked about this fact, that this is over many, many decades. We have seen the growth, sometimes out of sight, of violent extremism only to have it erupt most spectacularly in the past several years.

And it's -- we're not going to turn around that situation overnight. And while admittedly, sometimes there is a Washington clock and there is an Iraq clock or a Middle East clock that aren't necessarily all synced up, it doesn't mean we don't understand the challenges that these leaders face. And fundamentally, we do understand that they need to arrive at their own solutions. This is not some "made in America" or "made in Western Europe" solution. They are going to take these values and apply them, given their history and their culture and their particular situation, to the best of their ability. And we believe that, for example, Prime Minister Maliki, Prime Minister Siniora, President Abbas are all doing that.

And it is also important to remember, as you have heard the Secretary say many times before, that we didn't get it right right off the bat either, that it took us a long time to deal with things like slavery. It took us a long time to deal with denial of fundamental rights to large swaths of our population. So while that doesn't mean we can't push, prod, cajole, encourage, it does mean that while we are doing that we are fully aware of the fact that our democracy is not perfect, our country is not perfect. And to the extent that we have made advances in our political system and our way of life, those advances have sometimes come with great cost and they have taken us quite some time.

Yes, Libby.

QUESTION: Can I change topics?


QUESTION: Following up on the gaggle about the memo, the Ryan Crocker memo.


QUESTION: You had said you were going to try to get us something from the bureaucracy about staffing numbers.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes and the bureaucracy met the challenge, I am pleased to say. Well, you be the judge of --

QUESTION: Amazing.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- whether or not it met the challenge.


MR. MCCORMACK: So the basic issue here was a Washington Post story talking about a memo from Ryan Crocker requesting more assets at Embassy Baghdad and that led to a discussion about, well, what is the staffing, has the State Department met this challenge.

So let me give you some statistics here and it might help you understand how the State Department has responded to the staffing challenges at Embassy Baghdad and how we -- I think you will see and I hope you will agree that the State Department has stepped up to the plate.

There are currently 112 active duty Foreign Service officers who have scored 3/3. For those outside the State Department that means general, professional fluency in Arabic and they have tested out at that level within the past five years. Now, we had more people in the Department that have previously tested out at a 3/3 or higher, but I'm going with the last five years because that's the best dataset that we have. And that of those people, 41 percent of our 3/3-plus - 3/3 and above Arabic speakers have served in Iraq six months or more.

There was also an issue talking about, well, the staffing is skewed towards the junior officer level and a couple things here. We have, as of this past February, 85 percent of our Foreign Service personnel in Iraq had eight or more years of experience in the State Department, so that's what we consider mid-level officers. And also at the senior-most level, our current Ambassador in Baghdad is a four-time previous Ambassador -- Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon. Our DCM, current DCM, is a former Ambassador to Belarus. His replacement is our current Ambassador in Bangladesh. The head of our political section was formerly Ambassador to Syria -- and there's going to be a staffing gap there, but that's going to be filled by our current Ambassador to Algeria Robert Ford, who was previous to that assignment the political counselor in Iraq, so somebody with deep experience in Iraq and a terrific Arabic speaker on top of it.

And our two sitting Ambassadors will move this summer to become the -- take over the top political-military position, the political-military counselor, and then also another will take over as coordinator for the economic transition. We also have in place former Ambassador Tim Carney who is overseeing a lot of our assistance and making sure that there's a coherent structure to that and that it is being spent effectively.

We have a retired ambassador who is the head of our office of Provincial Reconstruction Teams and then we have at least one of those team leaders is a former ambassador and then there are several others who have served as number twos in embassies, a DCM.

So I'm glad I was able to get these statistics because I think it really paints a picture of a Department that has stepped up and answered the call that the Secretary has put out for experienced, seasoned people to serve in Embassy Baghdad. You also want to have a mixture of people there. You want to have -- you don't want to have all chiefs and other people who are -- you also need other people who are going to do some of the work there as well. So you want to have a mixture of mid-level and junior officers.

And as for Ryan's cable specifically, he made it very clear that this is -- this was the work of an ambassador who was coming in, taking a look at the staffing of an embassy, and wanted that to conform to his particular style, his vision for how Embassy Baghdad should work. And rightly so, he had somebody come in, take an objective look and say, okay, what do we need to do in order to meet the vision that Ryan has laid out for the embassy? He came back with some requests. The Secretary took a look at them. She's going to make sure that they happen.

And one other step that we have taken here in the Department, I think -- well, a couple of other steps, one specifically on Embassy Baghdad. And that is we have changed the way we do personnel assignments within the Department. At the Secretary's direction, we now fill Embassy Baghdad and Embassy Kabul assignments first. So nobody else gets an assignment until all of those jobs are filled, then we move on to the other embassies around the world.

And also to get at the more general issue of beefing up our capabilities in Arabic speakers, we have recently put out a call to all Foreign Service personnel around the world and said if you want to start Arabic language training, either as a brush-up or starting at the ground floor taking a two-year course, we will break you out of your current assignment immediately, bring you back and start learning Arabic. And we will deal with any staffing gaps that may occur around the globe as a result of that. But it's a demonstration of the Secretary's commitment to matching our resources with our strategic foreign policy objectives.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up. For some of those people that you mentioned, are the lengths of stay for all of these people still one year or is it longer in some cases? I know there's been criticism that one year is not long enough.

MR. MCCORMACK: The tour is still one year, right? Yeah, the tour is still one year, but you also have some people that extend their tours there as well.

QUESTION: Do you think that one year is enough time for these people to be in place to actually, you know, really do meaningful work if they, you know, get there, get adjusted and then suddenly have to go?

MR. MCCORMACK: There are some learning curves that come along with undertaking a new assignment, but you have people that are now cycling through a couple of times over through Embassy Baghdad. You have at the top some of our most experienced people. Ryan, for example, was in Iraq, I think during the CPA days or the transition from CPA to an embassy. So among your top leadership you have people -- and he actually served in Iraq previously during the Saddam Hussein era. So you have at the top of the embassy people who are -- have deep experience with Iraq. You have others who are going to be on their first, second or third tour. And you know their learning curve is probably going to be a little bit more than somebody who is really ready to hit the ground running. So you're going to have a mixture.

And as I said, there are some people who extend their stays in Embassy Baghdad. But we're going to do whatever it takes to have Ryan feel comfortable that he has the resources, human resources, capital resources that he needs to do the job that's been set out for him -- set out for him by the Secretary and the President.


QUESTION: Sean, a follow-up to the last point. The first one is that the figures that you gave, the statistics going back, the 112 active duty FSOs who are fluent in Arabic over the past five years and 85 -- those figures would suggest to me at least that the Ambassador doesn't really have a case to make in -- that, you know, he's asking for something that he's already got. Is that not the case?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, well, these are --

QUESTION: You're looking at about 85 percent of FSOs have eight or more years of experience as of February.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. In the -- yeah, in the Embassy.

QUESTION: Before he got there or as he was getting there?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, this is --

QUESTION: So, I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I tried to --

QUESTION: Is there any other embassy in the world that compares where 85 percent of the staff in an embassy has this kind of --

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you, Matt. But I tried to make the point and this is an important point.

QUESTION: What (inaudible) could he have?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, he -- there's no cookie-cutter approach. When you're an ambassador and you go into an embassy, there are going to be unique circumstances for each and every individual embassy. The basic point here is that you had a new ambassador come in, Ryan Crocker, and he has a certain vision for how he wants this embassy to work. He has a certain vision for what he needs in order to do the job, according to his style. We're going to get him what he needs and we're not going to -- you know, we're not going to second guess him.

So when he says, look, I need x, y, and z -- look, when you have -- for the military equivalent, if you have a commanding general who's in Iraq and he says, I need x number of units or, you know, battalions to come in, of course, the Department of Defense is going to do everything that it can to make sure that it can fulfill those requirements and those needs. It's the same thing, the same idea here at the State Department. Now, we're civilians and it works a little bit different.

QUESTION: Yeah, I understand, but your explanation of the numbers would seem to suggest that you don't think that he's got a case to make.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, absolutely --

QUESTION: I mean, what does he want? A hundred percent of his staff to have eight years or more experience? Instead of a third of the Foreign Service personnel there speaking fluent in Arabic, he wants three-quarters? What is it that he wants that you're going to give him?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he -- part of what we've done is already fulfilled some of those requests and those requirements. And that involves making sure that those senior positions, senior-most positions in the embassy, are filled and that there are no staffing gaps.

QUESTION: Right. But my understanding is that this cable is dated May 31st and you're saying -- and what you're saying is that this was done before then, unless you've done it somehow in the past week and a half.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, there's some -- there's some before and then there's been some done subsequently because Pat Kennedy did an assessment. He came back with some recommendations and we're acting on those. Look, Matt, you know --

QUESTION: So you think he has a case to make? I mean, does --

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, he says he needs these things; we're going to get them for him.

QUESTION: Well, what does he need?


QUESTION: Does he -- is he looking for a hundred percent of staff that has eight or more years of experience?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you precisely what he has asked for, Matt. I can tell you that he wants to make sure that this is the highest priority within the Department, resource and personnel wise. We agree with him and we're going to make sure that it happens.

QUESTION: And the other thing was kind of a casual aside. You said something -- maybe I misunderstood you. You said something about there was a -- that you were going to have a gap in the Ambassador to Syria position? Are you saying --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, the --

QUESTION: -- you're going to re -- you're looking to fill that post?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no, no. What I said was that the political counselor job was formerly filled by our former Ambassador to Syria, and that given the assignment process and getting the new person in there that has been formerly assigned that job as political counselor in Iraq, that there was going to be a gap.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: But we wanted to make sure that there was no gap in Baghdad. So we're going to have Robert Ford --

QUESTION: There's no plan afoot that you're aware of to restore the --


QUESTION: -- embassy in Damascus to ambassador level?


QUESTION: So just to clarify in the numbers -- like 112 active duty, that's as of today?


QUESTION: Okay. And then when did those -- I guess Matt was trying to get at this, but is Ryan --

MR. MCCORMACK: You're translating for Matt? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, is Ryan Crocker's cable -- is Ryan Crocker's cable based on these numbers?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you whether or not he saw these numbers.

QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, is he looking at it and saying, "Okay, we have 112 active duty, we need more?" I mean, I'm just trying to --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, the 112 active duty is service-wide.


MR. MCCORMACK: All around throughout the Foreign Service. That's not talking about in Baghdad.

Forty-one percent of them have served in Iraq six months -- six months or more, and this is in the timeframe from when an embassy opened up to the present day. So I just use that to make the point that there have been -- we have cycled through during this period experienced people and people who have excellent language capabilities with Arabic language.

QUESTION: So how many people are serving in Baghdad right now?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you right off the top of my head. I don't know.

QUESTION: Do you know offhand --

MR. MCCORMACK: Quite a few.

QUESTION: -- how many of the 3/3 Arabic speakers are serving there now or at any one time?

MR. MCCORMACK: Happy to find out for you.

QUESTION: But are we talking six, twelve, a dozen?

MR. MCCORMACK: Happy to find out for you.

QUESTION: But the story says thousands of U.S. employees and 4,000 of third-country's employees?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are -- the employees come in many, many different bureaucratic -- with many different bureaucratic identifications. Some are Foreign Service officers, some are direct-hire civilians, some are contractor civilians, some are contractor third-country nationals. So there's a whole panoply of different bureaucratic identifiers that go along with that.

QUESTION: But is it a credible figure?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look into it, Sylvie. I don't have that figure here off the top of my head.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up. Is there any thought to making service in Baghdad a requirement in the Foreign Service?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I haven't heard that.

QUESTION: And also, when you're getting new recruits from the Foreign Service, is there any type of priority or level -- upper-level placement for recruits that are willing to start off training in Arabic and going to Baghdad?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think there's any link between recruiting and Baghdad. There -- we have started giving different weights to individuals who have come into the -- want to come into the service with existing language capabilities. That, regardless if it's Arabic or Mandarin or Spanish or French or anything else, but I'm not aware of any specific weight over and above what I just talked about for Arabic. I'm happy to check for you but --

QUESTION: Or service in Baghdad. Like if someone comes in and says I want to join the Foreign Service. I'm ready to go to Baghdad. Do they get like --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, there's --

QUESTION: -- a higher level placement or something like that?


QUESTION: I misunderstood when you said -- I thought you meant 112 active duty FSOs in Baghdad now --

QUESTION: Yeah, that's what it sounds like.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, this is --

QUESTION: This is 112 service-wide, so out of like --


QUESTION: -- 12,000, only 112 speak Arabic?

MR. MCCORMACK: This is -- they have tested -- this is that have tested within the past five years. There's more. There's actually 222 --

QUESTION: All right.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- who are 3/3 and above service-wide current. But the delta between that -- what's that, 110, are people who have tested more than five years ago at the 3/3 level.

QUESTION: Right. But so 41 percent of the 112 that actually served in Baghdad. They're there now or they have just served?

MR. MCCORMACK: Have served, have served.

QUESTION: For at least six months?


QUESTION: That's only 40 -- well, my little addition --

MR. MCCORMACK: 41 percent of the 112.

QUESTION: Which turns out -- which comes out to 45.92 percent. (Laughter.) So I assume we're talking about 47 --

MR. MCCORMACK: Round up, Matt.

QUESTION: Like 46 people.


QUESTION: That wouldn't seem like a whole lot. Forty-six -- like you're saying four years.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would make --

QUESTION: How many are there now?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, I can't tell you right now. But I was just making the point of given the preexisting capabilities of the Department, and remember it takes two years of training up somebody in Arabic to get to the 3/3 level, that a significant portion of those people have served in Embassy Baghdad. As we frequently hear that, oh, well, you don't have people with all the capabilities that are required. And I'm just pointing out that there are many, many people out of our existing pool of 3/3-plus speakers who have cycled through Baghdad.

QUESTION: Well, again -- well, maybe, I mean but you could make the argument that there are a limited number of Arabic-speaking countries and the Arab League is not, you know, 112 nations. And to have less than half of your Arabic speakers in arguably the most important diplomatic post in an Arabic-speaking country -- I mean, you know, you could make the argument that that doesn't seem like a whole hell of a lot.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Secretary as I said has put this as her top priority. And we're going to make sure that no other jobs in this bidding cycle -- and this is something that she started -- no other jobs get filled before those jobs in Baghdad and Kabul. So she's going to make sure that we match our resources with our strategic objectives.

QUESTION: Even though -- I mean, 222 people speaking Arabic in the State Department.

MR. MCCORMACK: At the 3/3 level and that's professional --

QUESTION: It's very few.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we freely admit that, you know, Secretary Rice when she became Secretary of State there was a deficit of Arabic speakers. But there is a deficit of Arabic speakers across the board throughout the United States Government, I think. There have been no shortage of reports about that and we've worked through implementing a variety of incentives to have people study Arabic. It takes -- like I said, it takes two years at least -- to get somebody up to that level and a little bit more when you actually put somebody down in a country and they're sort of out there talking colloquial Arabic, speaking in a colloquial language. So it takes a while. And as I indicated, the Secretary made sure that we are doing everything that we can to recruit people to learn Arabic, and hence the --

QUESTION: Do you have a goal?

MR. MCCORMACK: Hence the -- I'll check with George Staples to see if we have a goal. But hence the offer to everybody service-wide that if they want to learn Arabic they can start immediately.

QUESTION: So can I just go back --

MR. MCCORMACK: You want to beat a dead horse?

QUESTION: No, no, I just want to know --

MR. MCCORMACK: We are entering into flagellum equus mortuus territory. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But I do want to know what exactly is the Ambassador asking for. Is he just asking for more or has he -- have he and Patrick Kennedy come up with some kind of, you know, I don't want to use the word "benchmark," but, you know, some kind of a goal, an identifiable numbers goal for --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have --

QUESTION: -- people in terms of -- people who have fluency in Arabic --

MR. MCCORMACK: Basically -- basically, it boiled down to he wanted to beef up the political and economic sections. There are more requirements, but basically get more -- beef up the political and economic sections so that they could -- I think Ryan wanted to make sure that they could, to the best of their ability, make sure that they had a good feel for what was going on throughout the country. And he identified one way to do that, to beef up these sections with experienced people. And if you -- talented people. Oftentimes -- you know sometimes experience doesn't necessarily -- there's not a one-to-one correlation there, but talented people.

And none of this is to say that the people out there (a) aren't working hard or (b) aren't talented. He was just looking -- he's looking for more. These people are -- work incredible hours. So he just wanted to make sure that he had everything that he needed in order to structure the embassy the way that he wanted in order to meet the mission that's been set out for him.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Please. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Slight warning: it does have a number associated with it, but it's --

MR. MCCORMACK: There's a reason why I gave up economics, Charlie.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm much better with words.

QUESTION: In all seriousness, there's a report out of Islamabad that there was a U.S. attack -- or that there was an attack on -- in North Waziristan with 17 or so Taliban killed. Do you have any word on that at all --

MR. MCCORMACK: No word on it. No word on it.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sean, (inaudible) this morning Congress noting the birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi. And do you have a statement in --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the First Lady spoke quite eloquently in her op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the importance of recognizing the fact that this Nobel Peace Price winner, human rights activist, is still in prison, which only serves to illustrate the depravation of basic rights that is still ongoing in Burma.

QUESTION: Is there a (inaudible) -- I mean, there have been a lot of debate on this, but aside from sanctions, is there a need for U.S. to change tack in prodding the military rulers to be more open on human rights and not release this leader?

MR. MCCORMACK: A change in tack from --

QUESTION: For U.S. strategy.


QUESTION: I mean sanctions has not worked at all.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it also requires concerted pressure from all countries around the globe. And part of our effort to raise the awareness and the focus on this issue was evident in the action that we took in the Security Council. And we are very pleased that we, for the first time ever, got enough votes to pass something and to put it on the agenda of the Security Council. So that's an important step.

That wouldn't have happened without the leadership of the United States, so we are going to try to approach this problem on many, many different fronts, but it requires more than just us. So I don't foresee, in any case, a change in our tactics.

QUESTION: There seems to be a roadblock here because in the Security Council, Russia and China voted against it, so how far are you going to go on that side? And when you talk about Burma being a problem for the region, the Southeast Asian leaders themselves say that is not a problem to us in that sense.

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, it requires everybody's effort and requires considered pressure from all parties involved and interested in the issue of human rights.


QUESTION: Negroponte starts meetings tomorrow with his Chinese counterpart as part of the U.S.-China Senior Dialogue. Do you have any sense of what's on tap?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I'll have to talk to him about it. We'll get you something. I promise to get you something.


QUESTION: Have you been told to track down or to drive a nail into this report about the $2 million going to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, there's nothing to it. You know I don't know where this came from. Our -- we are working within the six-party framework and there's a very clear delineation of what would be given to North Korea in response for given actions. This first tranche related to the sealing and shutdown is 50,000 tons of fuel oil or in-kind assistance. That would be followed by, if they take certain steps, more fuel oil or in-kind assistance. So I'm not sure -- and this first 50,000 tons is -- the South Koreans have volunteered to provide that, so I'm not sure where this is coming from.

QUESTION: And you're quite sure it hasn't been dangled in front of them as an extra incentive or if it could be going to something else?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I don't know where the report came from, Matt.

Yes, Joel.

QUESTION: Sean, with respect to what's occurred over in the Middle East, the problems with both Iraq and Afghanistan, you have the Rewards for Justice program for turning in culprits that are really in the terrorism realm. Is there any shape or form to put together a similar rewards for, maybe, diplomacy to spur other moderate countries not at a small level, but at a very concerted level to break this deadlock? Following the talks at the White House this morning, the Saudis are in Madrid. Are you asking them to maybe intercede? Of course, Madrid is the area with the first railroad train bombings.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I think the fight against violent extremism, Joel, is everybody's fight. And you mentioned Saudi Arabia and many countries in the Middle East. This is -- they understand that this is their fight too. And you know, you make the point about promoting democracy to promoting democratic institutions. We believe that's important. We have, through the Foundation for the Future, devoted resources. We have bilateral assistance. So it is -- it's very important, working to build up these democratic institutions.


QUESTION: Sean, President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan has spoken of plans to conduct a referendum on whether or not Taiwan should join the UN under the name of Taiwan.


QUESTION: An official in this building gave some background comments yesterday and I'm wondering whether or not you have anything on the record for us.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, I have something for you. We support Taiwan's inclusion, as appropriate, in international organizations that do not require statehood for membership. Consistent with our one China policy, we do not support Taiwan's membership in international organizations that require statehood, including the United Nations.

The United States opposes any initiative that appears designed to change Taiwan's status unilaterally. This would include a referendum on whether to apply to the United Nations under the name Taiwan. While such a referendum would have no practical impact on Taiwan's UN status, it would increase tensions in the Taiwan Strait. Maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is of vital interest to the people of Taiwan and serves U.S. security interests as well. Moreover, such a move would appear to run counter to President Chen's repeated commitments to President Bush and the international community. We urge President Chen to exercise leadership by rejecting such a proposed referendum.

QUESTION: Could I follow up? A quick follow-up.


QUESTION: Sean, Taiwan is a democracy and 80 percent of the people in Taiwan support Taiwan's membership in the UN. And President Chen is obviously reacting to public demand. What is wrong with that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can read this to you again -- (laughter) -- if you want me to. But I would refer to you what I -- the answer I just gave you.

QUESTION: Can I -- can I follow up? There are some in Taiwan and elsewhere that say that there are some UN agencies that it would behoove Taiwan to be a part of because it involves cooperation in the international system and you need Taiwan's help, such as with avian flu or SAARS or other economic types of things where the fact that Taiwan is not a member kind of hurts international cooperation as a whole.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm going to refer you to paragraph one of what I read. I'll repeat it. We support Taiwan's inclusion, as appropriate, in international organizations that do not require statehood for membership. Consistent with our one China policy, we do not support Taiwan's membership in international organizations that require statehood, including the United Nations.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, so are you willing to forsake issues of international stability to make a point that Taiwan is not a state? I mean, what about instances where statehood is required for membership but cooperation from Taiwan would be vital?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can read it to you again, if you like.

QUESTION: No, that won't be necessary. Thank you.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Other then WHO, which I think is the example that most people are familiar with, what other organizations are there -- UN agencies?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have anything to the answer I've given.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: China's Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo would participate -- U.S.-China Senior Dialogue with Deputy Secretary Wednesday and Thursday. Yesterday, the State Department put out announcement, say they were -- they may discuss North Korea and Sudan. I'm just wondering if Taiwan -- the referendum campaign or the general Cross-Strait issues was on the agenda.

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you. I'm sure that the Chinese side will likely bring it up, and we'll let you know if they do.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:38 p.m.)

DPB # 109

Released on June 19, 2007

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