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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
August 6, 2007

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT
Security Posture at Home and Abroad
Terror Video is One Data point Among Many in Treat Reporting
Official Position on Tancredo Remarks / Remarks are Outrageous
Separating Campaign Politics from Official U.S. Policy
IRAN
Support for Levinson Family's Search for Information / Contacts with Family
Swiss Assistance as Protecting Power
Advice to American Citizens Traveling To Iran / Travel Warning
Requests for Information on Whereabouts of Mr. Levinson
IRAQ
Train and Equip Program / DOD Responsibility
Leadership of Iraqi Government Making Fundamental Legislation and Decisions
U.S. Working Closely with Maliki
NORTH KOREA
Energy Working Group Scheduled to Meet at Panmunjeom
LEBANON
Lebanese Elections
NICARAGUA
U.S. Relationship with Nicaragua
Nicaragua's Relationship with Iran


TRANSCRIPT:

12:39 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, guys. I don't have anything to start off with, so we can get right into your questions.

QUESTION: Were you able to find out anything from this morning's question about the threat, or if anything has been sent out to the embassy --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I can't point to anything specific, Matt, other than the fact that this is yet another data point in a number of data points that we collect every single day concerning threats not only to the homeland but to our facilities abroad. So I can't separate out for you any particular action we've taken in response to this video. But our security, our intel people, are constantly looking at whether or not we are in the proper security posture both at home and abroad. I don't have any information for you about whether or not we have turned the dial at all at any of our facilities. But our guys are looking at that every single day to make sure that we are properly protecting both our people as well as our facilities.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you believe that you are right now at the appropriate level --

MR. MCCORMACK: That's -- you know --

QUESTION: -- than you were probably on Friday or Thursday --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I can't tell you whether or not the posture has changed. I'm sure it has in some small regard; I couldn't point it out to you. But our guys feel as though they are doing all the things that they need to at this point to protect our people and our facilities.

QUESTION: Do you know if a special cable or anything has gone out or not?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't point to anything in particular, Arshad.

QUESTION: Okay, and then -- just one other follow-up -- sorry, still on this.

QUESTION: Yeah, sure.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you don't think that the threats made in the video are credible?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, that's not at all what I'm saying. What the -- and that's how I started out here, saying this is one data point among many that we get every single day. I think everybody's familiar now with, over the past six years, the fact that on a daily basis, there is threat reporting that comes in every single day from all around the world. And this is -- this would be one more data point.

People are taking a look at the tape, as well as other things that come in, to see if there's anything that we can glean from it; anything we can learn that would tip us off to any sort of plots or plans that may be underway. But as for this particular tape, Kirit, I can't point to anything in particular that we -- any particular action that we have taken outside of every single day we're taking a look to make sure we have maintained the proper security posture.

QUESTION: Sean, when you say (inaudible), does that mean, no, you haven't sent out any cable about this, or you're leaving open the possibility that you might have but you're just not allowed to talk about it?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) I would -- what you have to -- the way you have to look at this is, this is one more data point that's embedded among a variety of others. And so on any given day, we're doing a lot of different things; a lot of different cables going out there, a lot of different e-mails, a lot of different e-mail traffic, phone traffic saying we need to adjust our posture; here's what we're saying, here's what we're hearing. So I can't pin any particular action down to this particular video.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: But it is part of the overall threat reporting, threat stream, that comes in, and that is something we do take very seriously.

QUESTION: Well, how about -- forget about the video -- how about today, are you aware of anything that's gone out security-wise to embassies?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure on any given day there are -- you know, there are dozens, hundreds of communications that go out to our embassies regarding security. So I'm sure that there have been security communications today at some point via e-mail, via cable, via phone call. But I can't point to anything in particular, Matt.

QUESTION: Do you think that Adam Gazan has linked himself to top al-Qaida leadership?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Zain, I can't tell you. I'm not a competent analyst that would -- could give you that answer. You might check with the intel folks as to whether or not -- you know, where they place him in the al-Qaida hierarchy. I just can't answer that for you.

QUESTION: Change subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Another thing that's hanging over from this morning: Were you able to get any information on what contacts, if any, you may have had, or the Department may have had, with the wife or family of Mr. Levinson --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and what you think about reports that they plan to go to Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I'll just start off by saying, look, we fully support Mrs. Levinson and her family in their search for information about Mr. Levinson, and certainly share their great desire to have Mr. Levinson return back to the United States so he can be with his family; fully supportive of that. And we have been persistent in going back to the Iranian authorities to try to get whatever information we possibly can about Mr. Levinson's whereabouts.

Most recently we went in, via the Swiss, on July 3rd, through a diplomatic note, asking the Swiss to go back in yet again to ask for information about Mr. Levinson. We haven't heard anything back from the Iranians. They haven't been particularly forthcoming in terms of providing information not only about Mr. Levinson but about other citizens that have been prevented from leaving Iran.

And not anybody new, but these are the four people that we've talked about in the past in addition to Mr. Levinson. We have -- we've had numerous contacts with the Levinson family; both Mrs. Levinson as well as other family members. That has gone from Under Secretary Nick Burns, the number three person in the Department, all the way down to folks at the working level. And I think the last date I have here is -- we've talked to them as recently as July 25th.

QUESTION: And have you told them that you think it would be a good idea that they go to Iran or that you think it might be a bad idea that they go to Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we -- it's a hard situation. But our advice as the U.S. Government, we have to couch it in terms of our Travel Warning that is posted for all American citizens out there. You can -- and you can get a hold of that. And in that Travel Warning, we caution all American citizens -- in particular, those who might hold American and Iranian citizenship; you can check the specific language, I don't have it right here -- but essentially: Think twice about traveling to Iran, given the current circumstances and the experiences that we've had with American citizens being prevented from leaving, over the past several months. But all of that said, that's a personal decision that they will have to make. They're going to have to weigh the risks.

QUESTION: Have you conveyed that view with -- to them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Yes, we have.

QUESTION: Yeah. Was it in that last conversation on July 25th?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell if it was in the last conversation, but this is also -- these are also public documents for all to see out there.

QUESTION: And even though these -- the Levinson family members are not, to my knowledge, Iranian Americans, are you particularly concerned about the possibility of such travel, given, you know, the four cases that you alluded to in addition to that of Mr. Levinson of the treatment of American citizens who recently visited Iran --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, that's the context in which we're talking about this right now. And for whatever reason, the Iranian Government has seen fit to prevent American citizens, who have traveled to Iran, to prevent them from leaving Iran. And that's a source of great concern to us. I can't tell you what motivates that. But whenever you have this conversation about travel warnings and whether or not Levinson family should be traveling there, you have to have that conversation in the context of recent Iranian Government actions.

Yeah. Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Yeah. Have you asked the Swiss to keep an eye on the Levinsons when they're there, or to report to the Swiss or any of your other interlocutors who are --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think we've asked them to look over their shoulders. Certainly, the Swiss, as our protecting power in Iran, would be available for American citizens who might need some assistance. And we would ask that the Swiss Government provide that assistance for any American citizen who might request it.

QUESTION: Do you know what their plans are? Is it indeed for the wife and the son to travel? And do you know when?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's probably best to ask them.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Does the Department have an opinion on the utility or futility of their visit trying to get information?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's a personal decision. Yeah, look, we understand. We fully understand the desire, the need, to have -- get some information about Mr. Levinson's whereabouts and to get him back here. Everybody understands that. We all share the same objective. But that, you know, that decision is going to have to be a personal one.

QUESTION: So when you say that you've given them advice based on your Travel Warning, that means you told them not to go; that you've advised them not to go?

MR. MCCORMACK: Our advice is exactly as I stated it, as exactly as it is in the Travel Warning. Ultimately, this is a decision that they are going to have to make. It's a personal decision. We would provide to them the same advice, same exact advice that we would provide any other American citizen who was considering traveling to Iran. And that is in the public Travel Warning that is out there for all to see.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: What the -- you said your last note to the Swiss was July 3rd?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mmm-hmm.

QUESTION: And then you said, the Iranians -- you haven't heard anything back from Iranians. To your knowledge, have the Iranians gotten to the -- gone to the Swiss and said the same thing, that we don't know? And then -- in other words -- well, I guess my question is: Have you heard back from the Swiss about what --

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't have any new information back from the Swiss concerning Mr. Levinson.

QUESTION: And so, can I ask then, why July 3rd is, more than a month ago, is the last time you approached them on this? Are you -- have decided that --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, because what happens is that the Swiss continue to go back in, even without our prompting them every single time. So they're continuing to do this. So we believe that it's important at certain periods to once again register in a formal way, through diplomatic notes, our desire and request to have information about Mr. Levinson as well as to request consular visits for those other Americans that are being prevented from leaving.

QUESTION: And, so, do you know -- what does that make -- that makes the July 3rd -- would be what, the fifth or sixth time?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Matt, off the top of my head, I don't know. It's been -- you know, more than once is too many times.

QUESTION: Sean, just one more (inaudible)when you say you haven't gotten any new information back. Just to follow up on Matt's question, can you say that -- and I think in the past you have said that the Iranians have told the Swiss that they don't know where he is; that they have no information about him. Is that the message you keep getting back: We don't know where he is or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know what the specific message is, but it -- qualitatively it doesn't change. We don't have any new information about his whereabouts.

QUESTION: Just one more thing on the Swiss. They don't seem to be getting results from the Iranians. Is this something that you said, you think is a function of the Iranian Government or is it perhaps a function of the Swiss?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's fully a function of the Iranian Government.

QUESTION: You still have confidence in the Swiss as your protecting power?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: A few months ago, you had said that you had asked several other countries in the region to inquire as well. Have you heard anything back from those governments?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. No -- we have heard back from them, but no information about Mr. Levinson's whereabouts.

QUESTION: And how many countries was that? I think it was up to, like, four or five?

MR. MCCORMACK: It was a handful.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On Iraq, this GAO report, do you have any reaction to the report's findings that 30 percent of arms to Iraq are unaccounted for now?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think you need to talk to DOD about that. I think they're the competent officials to answer.

QUESTION: But The Washington Post report on this says that normally this is handled by the State Department as a kind of train and equip program. Can you tell me why it wasn't, in this case?

MR. MCCORMACK: You can talk to the Department of Defense. There is a long history that's documented in public about the train and equip program. And I believe that the Department of Defense has full responsibility, as far as I know, for that program.

Yeah, Zain.

QUESTION: I want to ask you about Tom Tancredo's comments on bombing Mecca and Medina to fight terror. There's been a really strong and angry reaction from the Muslim world.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: He was asked about it yesterday in the debate and he said, you know, the State Department can say whatever they want and glad they're paying attention, but I'm sticking by what I'm saying, essentially. Could you speak to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, he will say what he will and we'll respond as the U.S. Government. The remarks are simply outrageous. He'll have to account for his own remarks and explain the reasons behind them. But it's important for people abroad, who may not necessarily pay attention to the details and just hear a headline with that in it, that the official position of the United States Government is that those remarks are just outrageous.

QUESTION: Do you think -- sorry -- do you think those remarks -- coupled with what Senator Obama has said about sending U.S. troops into Pakistan, if it came to that, along with what Hillary Clinton has been saying about not taking the use of nuclear weapons off the table, as it comes to Pakistan and Afghanistan -- does all that together create a perception problem, or that kind of message being communicated to the rest the world?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think --

QUESTION: Does that interfere with your public diplomacy efforts?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Look, I think it's pretty clear that everybody understands that there is a presidential race going on, and they can sort out for themselves the various remarks that are coming out. And the various candidates will speak for themselves as to the reasoning behind their remarks. I'm not going to get into that. It's going to be a long campaign series and I'm not going to start doing that.

But I can speak to what U.S. Government policy is. President just today spoke to the question about high-value targets and if we had an opportunity to go after high-value targets in those tribal areas in Pakistan. He responded. That's what the U.S. Government policy is in that regard. And across the line, I think everybody is familiar where we stand on these things. So I'm not going to delve too deeply into these topics; not going to involve us or myself in a presidential campaign.

QUESTION: Would you prefer they shut up, though, when it comes to sensitive issues like that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, this is a democracy. There's a thing called free speech. But there's also a thing called the Executive Branch, and we have a responsibility for what U.S. Government policy is.

QUESTION: Is it not a fact, though, Sean, that in fact a lot of people around the world don't really understand the difference; don't -- and that when things like this are said, that they can pose difficulties for your efforts in this front. Whether or not it's the U.S. Government policy or not --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- you find yourself standing here at this podium responding to questions about them.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, and that's fine, Matt.

QUESTION: -- and your diplomats abroad --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know -- and that's fine and that's part of our function. And that's part of -- you know, part of my function, part of the function of our diplomats abroad is to explain our democracy and to explain what U.S. Government policies are. And inasmuch as there are questions about the functioning of our democracy and why certain people say certain things, we'll try to explain it as best we can. The explanation here is, this takes place within the context of a presidential campaign. I will let candidates and their representatives speak on their behalf. I will speak on behalf of the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: Have the Pakistanis complained to you at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not to my knowledge. I don't know. I haven't heard anything, Zain.

QUESTION: Isn't it the case in the past that statements, rumors have created situations that have put your people in harm's way?

MR. MCCORMACK: Misreporting in the media, yeah. There have --

QUESTION: No, I'm talking about people saying that Iraq --

MR. MCCORMACK: There have been examples of that, yes.

QUESTION: Okay, you can describe one or two of them for us?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, the Newsweek story about the Koran.

QUESTION: Okay. So, then, when a congressman comes out and says that he thinks that it would be good to threaten to bomb the two holiest sites in Islam, and it causes riots, you know -- a similar -- similar statements like that led to the storming of your embassy in Islamabad in 1979, not from a congressman, just a pure rumor, and not even about the U.S., about Israel -- you're not in the least concerned about what this could -- what this might mean to the security of your embassies abroad?

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, all I can do is make it as clear as I possibly can, Secretary Rice, our ambassadors, our spokespeople abroad, what U.S. Government policy is. And I think that people have a -- if they're listening -- have a healthy appreciation for what our policy is, what it isn't. And if there's accurate reporting about it, I'm sure that people will fully understand and be able to separate out the functioning of a democracy and the politics that surround the presidential campaign and what the policies are of the existing administration. I am fully -- I am sure people are fully capable of separating out those two things.

QUESTION: Have the diplomats and the (inaudible) had to explain the system more recently, given these comments?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Talk to them.

QUESTION: We'd expect you to know.

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You're the spokesman, no?

MR. MCCORMACK: There are things called cell phones. You can speak to -- I know you speak to other diplomats around the world. Yeah, anything else?

Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: President Bush and President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, had a meeting today at Camp David. Do you have anything on that meeting regarding the hostage situation in Afghanistan?

MR. MCCORMACK: That was a White House meeting, so I would suggest you talk to my colleagues over at the White House.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Japanese media is reporting that a State Department official is accompanying some technical experts to North Korea. Do you have any information on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

Mmm-hmm.

QUESTION: I asked you about the exchange of gunfire between North Korean and South Korean forces. Any comment on that? Does that worry you?

MR. MCCORMACK: We don't -- bottom line is, I don't think it's going to have an effect on the six-party talks; or certainly, we would hope that it would not. The energy working group, I think, is scheduled to meet at Panmunjeom starting tomorrow. And other working groups are scheduled to meet at dates throughout August.

As for the specifics of the incident, I don't have any. You might want to check with the South Korean officials to see if they have anything on it. I don't.

QUESTION: Do you have any more details on the other four working group talks and where they'll be held? You told us this morning.

MR. MCCORMACK: Locations, I don't. The only location I had -- information location I had was for the energy working group.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you -- is there any comment on the results of the by-election in Lebanon, particularly the loss of Gemayel?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I think there were two elections that went on there, as far as I can -- in that particular area. And as far as I can tell, that these were free and peaceful. I'm not sure that we have a final tally but it appears that a supporter of Mr. Aoun won one of the seats, although you can check to see if the results are final.

Look, this is a functioning of Lebanese democracy. Ultimately, all of those elected to the Lebanese parliament are going to have to be accountable to the Lebanese people whether or not they fully support Lebanon's sovereignty and independence, political reform, as well as economic reform. But as for the election itself, it appears that it played out in a free and peaceful way.

QUESTION: Speaking of functioning democracies, can I go on a little bit more about what we were talking about this morning about the ferment in Iraq within the government there?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: And whether you're concerned at all that the legislative benchmarks that are to be reported on in September are going to be hurt, or efforts to meet them are going to be hurt by the ferment that is going on right now and this apparent bid by some to get rid of al-Maliki.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Iraqi Government has passed -- or the council representative has passed numerous pieces of legislation and they have also appropriated billions of dollars of funds that have flowed from the center out to the provinces. And that certainly is positive. But there are some fundamental pieces of legislation and underlying that, some fundamental decisions that they need to arrive at, (inaudible) refers to the hydrocarbon law and some of the constitutional reforms. And I know that senior party leaders from the major factions are engaged in discussions about how to resolve some of these differences. I know that certainly, President Talibani is actively involved in trying to broker some of these discussions. And that's positive; that is how it should work.

There comes a time when a government has to act on behalf of its people, though. These are important decisions for the future of Iraq. The decisions that these leaders and politicians will make will affect Iraq's future course for years and decades to come. So there's a certain understanding that there's a -- you know, a certain amount of weightiness that comes along with these particular decisions. But it is important that the leadership of this Iraqi Government and the leadership of these political parties make the compromises that they need to. Certainly, we have an interest in that. More importantly, the Iraqi people have an interest in that.

So the -- you know, the -- some ferment in the political system, it certainly is very active right now. And we hope the result of that ferment and those discussions is that they come to some important decisions about Iraq's future.

QUESTION: Are you still -- you still think that al-Maliki is the right guy to lead this government to --

MR. MCCORMACK: He is the person that was elected by the Iraqi people and it was decided upon among the leadership of the various political factions that he would be the prime minister. We are working closely with him. President Bush talks very frequently with Prime Minister Maliki and certainly our ambassador, Ryan Crocker, works with Prime Minister Maliki as well as other members of the presidency council. So it's not for the United States to choose the Prime Minister for Iraq. He was freely elected.

QUESTION: Well, you have done in the past.

MR. MCCORMACK: This prime minister was freely elected.

QUESTION: Yeah. But freely -- you know, you take issue with many freely elected prime ministers and presidents; the policies of, or the lack of policies of --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Yeah, and when they --

QUESTION: -- and I'm just wondering if --

MR. MCCORMACK: And when they disagree with us, they take issue with us. That's the way it works.

QUESTION: But do you think that -- you're not as vested in most places like you are in Iraq. So are you still confident in al-Maliki's leadership?

MR. MCCORMACK: There is -- look, there's a lot at stake, Matt, absolutely, for the Iraqi people, for the future of the Middle East. And Prime Minister Maliki is the person that was elected by the Iraqi people to lead Iraq. And we're working closely with him; he has a lot of -- not only him, but the presidency council -- and there's a lot to be done. He understands that. I think he fully understands that. And we are with him, standing by his side as he as well as the other Iraqi leadership make some hard decisions on behalf of the Iraqi people.

QUESTION: It's kind of conspicuous that you're not willing to say that you're confident in him, even if you're standing by his side.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again, Arshad, it's not a matter of, you know, getting the Good Housekeeping seal of approval from the United States Government or any other government. Ultimately, this government has to act on behalf of the Iraqi people. Certainly, we have an interest in seeing that government act.

And the fact that you have the President of the United States on a very frequent basis -- I can't tell you either every week or every other week -- in video conference or on the telephone with Prime Minister Maliki as well as other senior members of the Iraqi Government will tell you the kind of relationship that we have with this prime minister and this government.

Yeah, Gollust.

QUESTION: Sean -- excuse me -- Iran is going to be making some rather large (inaudible) investments in Nicaragua.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: And I was wondering whether that's anything that was a concern to the United States.

MR. MCCORMACK: Nicaragua is a sovereign, independent state. It's going to have bilateral relations with whatever states it sees fit to have relations with. We think that it's in the interest of Nicaragua to, as well as other states in the region, to deepen its relationships with those states who have a positive vision for the future in terms of Nicaragua's democracy: expanding that democracy, deepening that democracy as well as deepening and expanding economic reforms.

We have a good relationship with Nicaragua. We have a Millennium Challenge Corporation grant that totals about $175 million in Nicaragua. So there are some real current ties there with Nicaragua. What decisions that government makes in terms of a relationship with Iran and inviting Iran in is going to be up to them.

QUESTION: We have a good relationship with Nicaragua?

MR. MCCORMACK: We do.

QUESTION: And its president?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have --

QUESTION: In the gaggle, I think you tried to --

MR. MCCORMACK: We want -- you know, look, Matt, we want to have a good relationship with them. We've sent -- I'm trying to think -- Tom Shannon down to his inaugural to meet with him. And, look, we're ready to have a good relationship with the President of Nicaragua. Like I said, we do have a good relationship with Nicaragua and a close relationship to the Nicaraguan people.

Yes.

QUESTION: The Chinese are trying to provide the North Koreans with 50,000 tons of fuel oil. I think it's, like, as a first portion of the 950,000. Do you have any comments? Do you support that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't seen those reports. Let me -- I'll look into them.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(This briefing concluded at 1:06 p.m.)

DPB #139



Released on August 6, 2007



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