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Military

Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 3, 2007

INDEX:

IRAQ
Death of Polish Soldier / Attack on Polish Ambassador's Convoy in Baghdad
Blackwater Helped Medevac Ambassador to U.S. Medical Facility
U.S. Looking at Contractor Operations / Number of Investigations Ongoing
FBI is Assisting Diplomatic Security With Investigation
Secretary Rice Has Made It Clear State Department Will Cooperate With Inquiries
Ensuring Oversight And Rules of Engagement
Dialogue With Congress On Bill For Treatment of Contractors
DEPARTMENT
Inspector General Howard Krongard Has Written to Congressman Waxman / AFSA Release
No Official Announcement on Secretary Rice's Travel to Russia, Middle East
No Set Time or Date for International Conference / No Invitations Sent Out
General Ralston Has Discussed Resignation with Secretary Rice, but No Details
Have Not Received Final GAO Report on Travel / Info on March 2006 Interim Report
State Travel Regulations Are In Accordance With Federal Travel Regulations
Revised Regulations Prohibit Blanket Travel Authorizations for Premium Class Travel
Two Oversight Programs, Including Voucher Sampling and Improper Payments
Worked With GSA to Recover Value of Unused Tickets / Launched Travel Report
NORTH KOREA
No Set Date to Take North Korea Off Terrorism List
Everyone Is Committed To a Ministerial Meeting When Schedules Sync Up
U.S. Will Be in Close Contact with Japanese
Will Provide More Details On Series of Working Groups Mentioned By Chris Hill
IRAN
Not Appropriate Time For Companies to Invest In Iranian Oil And Gas Sector
COLOMBIA
Colombian Senator in United States
Will Not Say Anything That Will Negatively Affect FARC Hostage Situation
CHINA
Possible Merger of 3M & Chinese Company / CFIUS Process
As a Matter of Course, State Does Not Comment Process


TRANSCRIPT:

12:36 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Just one note to start off with. We talked a little bit this morning about the attack on the Polish Ambassador's convoy in Baghdad. And since that time, I've been informed that there was a Polish soldier who lost his life in that attack. And I just wanted to say that our thoughts and prayers go out to the soldier's family. Everybody appreciates his sacrifice and working to protect an Ambassador doing good work in Baghdad. And of course, Ambassador Pietrzyk is now at a U.S. military medical facility. I believe that we are working to help get him the medical care that he needs. We wish him and anybody else injured in the attack a speedy recovery.

And I would note just one other thing, and that is some folks asked this morning about-- did we assist with the evacuation? The answer is yes. And it was -- I looked into it. It was, in fact, some of our contractor personnel from Blackwater who helped Medevac the Ambassador to a medical facility, helped get the people out of the immediate attack zone. So I thought that was something worth noting for all of you.

And with that, I will take your questions.

QUESTION: Sean, about that very issue.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Was Blackwater just the closest ones there or why didn't the U.S. military also come or how soon --

MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie, I don't know. I'm not sure. I don't have a full picture of the battle space on the ground there. It could well have been that they were the nearest to the scene.

QUESTION: Is that something you could check?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Why do you think it was worth noting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, obviously, because -- thank you, by the way -- in the headlines over the past several weeks, there's been a lot of discussion about Blackwater, their activities in Baghdad and a number of different incidents. Absolutely valid questions to raise. And I think that in many cases at least on the part of some, there's been a rush to judgment about the activities of the individuals, as well as the company. A number of different investigations going on and we're going to determine the facts of what happened in specific incidents, as well as taking a look at contractor operations as a whole. So I just thought that because of all of those headlines and because some have rushed to judgment, it's worth noting some of the work these individuals are doing and the fact that they are risking their lives to protect the lives of others in a very dangerous place.

QUESTION: That's the same terminology that Blackwater used yesterday, "a rush to judgment." But another thing --

MR. MCCORMACK: Is there -- do you have a point by saying that?

QUESTION: -- well, I'm coming to my question now.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: But yesterday at the hearing on Blackwater, Henry Waxman has said that the State Department was acting as an enabler with Blackwater in terms of covering up information. I just wondered whether you had any response to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't know on what basis -- factual basis he's making such an assertion. Look, Secretary Rice has made it very clear personally that she expects with all legitimate inquiries the State Department is going to provide all the information that it might have. Look, you're going to get into issues where the lawyers go back and forth about classification of documents. I mean, can something be in an open forum, does it have to be in a closed hearing? But the Secretary's made it clear that we are going to cooperate with any of these inquiries. And we ourselves have a look into the specific incident on September 16th. We want to find out what happened.

The Secretary wants to determine what went on. She also wants to take a look at our contractor -- personal security contractor operations in Iraq to make sure that we have the right rules of engagement, that we have the right management oversight and that all of those things are being properly applied in a very dangerous work environment. She wants to make sure that our people are protected, that in providing that protection, we make sure that we are furthering our foreign policy and national security goals.

So in terms of making sure that our people are protected and we're doing it in the right way, the State Department's out in front on that and I don't know on what basis Congressman Waxman makes that statement. It makes a nice headline I guess, but, you know, you can talk to him about the factual basis for that. But I can assure you Secretary Rice made it clear to everybody in this Department that with legitimate congressional inquiries, exercising their authority and responsibility oversight, we're going to cooperate.

QUESTION: Okay. And one more thing, in the House today, they're looking at a bill which would make it clearer how contractors are treated if they, you know, commit any crimes.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: And that they would be liable under U.S. law. Is that something that you're looking at? Because they're in kind of legal limbo land and (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: This is the military extradition judicial act*?

QUESTION: Um-hmm.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it is something that's up on the Hill and we're actually having a conversation internally inside the U.S. Government about how to work with the Congress on this. It very quickly descends into complicated legal issues, looking at gaps between the ability to hold to account individuals, civilians -- I don't want to just say contractors -- civilians that operate in war zones, out of war zones.

There are a number of different potential legal authorities involved here and the Congress raises an issue of wanting to clarify some of those legal authorities and the ability to hold to account individuals. And it's something that we ourselves are taking a look at in reaction to what the Congress has raised and we're going to be speaking with the Hill about it.

I don't know that we -- there's some specific legislation. I don't know that we have put out an official statement of Administration position on the matter. You can check with --

QUESTION: I think OMB has put out something to --

MR. MCCORMACK: OMB --

QUESTION: OMB did today --

MR. MCCORMACK: OMB may well have. I know that they were talking about --

QUESTION: -- in which they opposed certain elements of it and I wondered whether you had looked at it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that also implies that they were willing to work on some other elements of it. That's natural. I mean, that's what happens between the Executive and the Legislative Branches. I wouldn't look at this as necessarily a contentious issue, but look at it as an issue that many agree need to be -- that needs to be addressed in some way and that you're going to have legitimate roles for the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch to play in that discussion and try to come out to a solution that works for everybody.

QUESTION: Is it clear to you where Blackwater stands at the moment legally? I know that this is something that you're looking at --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- but have your lawyers managed to come up with any sort of clear guidelines? Like, say there's an incident tomorrow; would you know --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- what you should do then?

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of?

QUESTION: In terms of legally, would you wait till they get charged?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we immediately get to the question of, well, what are we -- what are the specific circumstances about which we're talking. So it's a hypothetical situation and you can't even begin to answer that question without knowing what the specific circumstances are. Now when all of this began, we talked about various legal authorities and we talked about the CPA Order No. 17 as well as some potential other U.S. legal statutes that may apply depending on the circumstances.

Part of what Pat Kennedy and then, after that, General Joulwan, Stapleton Roy, and Eric Boswell are going to take a look at is -- going to look at the legal authorities and I'm sure that -- I don't want to prejudge what they are or not going to do and where they might come down on various issues, but I think part of what the Secretary would expect that they do is they take a look at this issue of legal authorities and under which legal authorities civilians operate in Iraq and then getting -- then you get to the next question of if somebody is not following the rules and regulations, how -- under what authorities are they held to account. So those are all going to be things that we're taking a look at.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, does the Secretary still have full confidence in the Inspector General and how seriously -- well, it's related to the Blackwater thing so that's why I'm asking you. And how seriously --

MR. MCCORMACK: How is it related to the Blackwater thing?

QUESTION: Investigations and cover-ups -- well --

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, now we're --

QUESTION: AFSA has specifically asked for his resignation because of some investigations with -- in the past -- and so I'm just asking --

MR. MCCORMACK: Last time I checked -- last time I checked, an individual was -- is accorded the right to answer accusations against them.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: And I know that Howard has written to Congressman Waxman. He's putting out a -- put out a statement that he looks forward to answering all of these questions. So I'm going to let him speak for himself.

QUESTION: So given the fact that the union of this department has asked for his resignation, does the Secretary still have full confidence in him?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't think the Secretary feels compelled to respond to press releases from AFSA.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the Pat Kennedy investigation and yesterday's announcement that the FBI -- I think it was yesterday -- the FBI is going to assist, depending on what agency you listen to the wording of. Is the FBI's role in this under Pat Kennedy? Is it under DS? I'm sorry -- not the Pat Kennedy. Is it under the DS investigation or is it a separate investigation?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. At this point in time, what I would say, Charlie, is that they are assisting Diplomatic Security agents in the investigation.

QUESTION: And do you think your Justice Department colleagues would use exactly the same terminology?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I didn't clear the talking point with them so I'm not sure.

Yeah.

QUESTION: We're seeing a lot of numbers bandied about on how much the State Department is suggesting should be paid to the victims of people who are killed by contractors or killed in incidents involving the U.S.. What's your standard sort of rule on this? I mean, do you have a figure? Is it like --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have a --

QUESTION: Like 15,000 to 50,000 or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know that we have a standard figure, and I would just -- I'm happy to look to see if there's a -- if there is an answer to that question. But I would note that this is a practice that is not unusual in the circumstances that the U.S. Government operates in in Iraq. As a matter of fact, the military has very similar kinds of -- similar kinds of policies. So I know the reports that you're referring to and I'm not going to get into the specifics because it's still a matter under review. But the practice to which we're referring is one that is not unknown to the U.S. Government in Iraq and it's certainly not unique to the State Department.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, do you have anything on Secretary Rice travel to the Middle East next week and the date of the international meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we don't have an official announcement. I'll try to get that out to all of you as soon as we can. We are -- Secretary Rice is going to be traveling to the Middle East next week. Everybody knows that she's going to be traveling to Moscow for the so-called 2+2 talks. Secretary Gates and Secretary Rice are going to be meeting with their Russian counterparts in Moscow to cover a number of different issues, including missile defense. And I would expect that from Moscow she would depart for the region. More details to follow.

And on the international conference meeting, we have not yet issued invitations, we have not yet settled on the date or the place and all of the final preparations, so stay tuned on that score.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On the North Korean agreement.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: How soon do you think North Korea could come off the terrorism list? And also in the agreement it says that the parties agreed to hold a ministerial meeting.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: How soon do you see that happening? Are all the pieces in place to have the meeting and are you just looking for a date or there are still some more things that you want to see before the ministers get together?

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of the date, I don't think it's been fixed yet. I know that we have been talking -- there have been some informal discussions among the six-party members about a date this fall, over the next month or two. I think we probably have to have a few more discussions about the when -- when we can triangulate all the schedules of the six ministers to be in Beijing, presumably it would be in Beijing.

QUESTION: So is it just a schedule issue at this point?

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, yeah. Everybody's committed to the idea that there will be a ministerial, so it's just a matter of taking a look at when the schedules synch up. And also you have to take in account is the agreement that we just -- that was just announced by the Chinese today being implemented, is it underway. I fully expect that it will be. I don't expect that to be an issue. But of course, should it become an issue, you're going to want to take a look at when it would be appropriate to hold a ministerial. But at this point, everybody fully intends to have that ministerial meeting.

And what was the other --

QUESTION: On the North Korean terrorism list.

MR. MCCORMACK: North Korean terrorism -- it's covered in -- there's some specific language in the agreement. I know Chris talked about it. I'm not going to get myself in trouble by paraphrasing. But it essentially gets down to we are going to take into consideration our commitments to the North Koreans to take a look at these two issues, and we're going to take a look at them consistent with discussions with other members of the six-party talks as well as North Korean performance on what they have committed to vis--vis denuclearization in the September 30th statement.

QUESTION: How much does the Japanese kind of sensitivities and opinion factor in on this? I mean, Chris said that it was a matter of U.S. national security interest. I mean, you think it's in their interest to do so but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- you're relationship with Japan is also important.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, it's a matter of some sensitivity in Japan, obviously. And we are going to be in close contact with the Japanese. Ultimately, this is a decision that resides with the United States. It's U.S. law, the application of United States law. We are going to take a look at the facts of the matter. But, of course, diplomatically, we are going to be in close contact with the Japanese. We understand the sensitivities there.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: A follow-up. A couple of points in the deal last year open to question. One of them is that why the words "nuclear weapons" was not mentioned in the deal at this time? And Chris Hill repeatedly said that all means all.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, all right. But I think that's a great statement and I'm going to stick with it: "All means all." When we talk about all their -- a full declaration of all their nuclear activities, and ultimately getting to the dismantlement of their nuclear program in all its respects, and a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. All means all.

Lambros.

QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, why General Joseph Ralston, U.S. Special Coordinator against PKK, has submitted his resignation to the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice? Did she accept his resignation?

MR. MCCORMACK: I know that they have talked about it. I can't tell you, Lambros, the particular status of their discussions. Certainly, if General Ralston has decided that he wants to move on for whatever reason, we would thank him for his service to the State Department on this important issue.

QUESTION: Can I go to Kosovo?

MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?

QUESTION: To Kosovo?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't talked to the Secretary about it, Matt.

QUESTION: No, I just want to know what you said there. Did you say, "If he has decided"?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Well, he has -- he has submitted a letter, I understand. I just haven't had a chance to talk to the Secretary about it or get her views on it.

QUESTION: On Turkey and Iran, I wondered whether you'd had a chance to look into that, you know, that Turkey --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have a whole lot more clarity on that issue. I can't tell you exactly where in the pipeline this deal would stand.

But again, I would reiterate our mantra on this. And that is that we as well as a lot of others don't really think it's the appropriate time to be investing in the Iranian oil and gas sector given the cloud that is over this Iranian Government in terms of their behavior of supporting terror around the world as well as pursuing development of a nuclear weapon under cover of a peaceful nuclear energy program. We think it's wholly inappropriate at this point to be investing in a state oil and gas sector that is run by that kind of government.

In terms of looking forward, I would have to understand precisely where they are in terms of this agreement. Of course, if you do have an agreement that is concluded and implemented and there is actual investment then there are certain requirements under U.S. law where we have to take a look at the deal. And after an assessment there would be a decision on what if any further steps to take. But at this point, I'm not sure that we're at that point. But it certainly should be something that is in the back of minds of any companies that are considering making substantial investments in the Iranian oil and gas sector.

QUESTION: Have you asked Turkey for more information on this, do you know?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure if, in fact, they have signed an agreement our people are talking to the parties involved on the Turkish side. I can't tell you what specific conversations may have been had. But I know that this has been something that's been sort of proceeding along for some time, so I'm confident that we have previously had conversations with the Turkish parties involved.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Just one more on North Korea.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: During the teleconference Ambassador Hill said that a series of working groups are going to be set up over the next week or so. Do you have any information -- who, what, when, where -- on those working groups?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. We'll try to get you some more info on that.

Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: This is on Colombia and Venezuela. There was a Colombian lawmaker in town, Mr. Cordoba, and supposedly he's meeting with some people in the United States to talk about the exchange with FARC about the release of these hostages as a humanitarian gesture. How do you feel about the U.S. being a site for this kind of -- these kinds of negotiations?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think what you're talking about is a visit of a Colombian Senator to the United States. I'm not sure that there's negotiations actually going in the United States. You can talk to the senator about what topics the senator wants to talk about. Beyond that, I don't think I really have much more to offer.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. been working with the Venezuelans, particularly Tom Shannon, in terms of being a party to these types of talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: What kind of talks?

QUESTION: Supposedly, Tom Shannon told the Venezuelans that he'd be willing to be a party to the talks -- third party talks, not with the FARC necessarily --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- about humanitarian exchange of prisoners.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think you would probably understand that with respect to any hostage situation, I'm just not going to talk about anything we may or may not be doing. I'm certainly not from the podium going to do anything that might potentially negatively affect our ability to see those people back, reunited with their families.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Have you got anything on the GAO report?

MR. MCCORMACK: I did. I did get some information. And they tell me that we have not yet received the final report from the GAO, although you're probably -- your next point is probably going to tell me that, well, we did talk to them in March 2006 with an interim report. And we did, in fact, take a number of steps in reaction to our discussions with the GAO. And I can -- if you want, I can run through all of these.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Some of these actions. Basically --

QUESTION: Well, how many steps were there -- 500? If there are 500 of them, we can get it later but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Six.

QUESTION: Six is okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Six is okay? All right, everybody good with six? Okay. I don't know -- I don't know if you have a lot of -- I know if you have full support on this, Matt. But --

QUESTION: I would like to know why you're spending $142 million a year on first class and business class travel.

MR. MCCORMACK: Because of --

QUESTION: I'll second it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Because of my great respect for you personally I won't go through all six of these.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Revised regulations -- so this is what we've done in reaction to some of our discussions with the GAO. Department of State business class travel policies -- and I assume that would also include first class travel policies -- are in accordance with federal travel regulations which allow for airline business class accommodations where the origin and/or destination are outside the Continental U.S. And the scheduled flight time, including stopovers and change of planes, is in excess of 14 hours or is required because of the agency mission.

So that's a general statement about what our policy is now. And since March 2006, the Department has implemented the following changes to its travel program: Revised regulations to prohibit the use of blanket travel authorizations for premium class travel. We have implemented two oversight programs, including evaluations of improper payments related to business class travel in accordance with the Improper Payments Information Act of 2002 and the travel oversight program that reviews for appropriateness a sample of travel vouchers. We have established a special justification form that must be signed by an appropriate authorizing officer and must accompany a valid travel authorization. The form cannot be approved by a subordinate.

We have worked with the General Services Administration to recover the value of unused tickets. We have created -- launched the creation of a business class travel report that is available to executive offices throughout the Department, allowing for better oversight. And we have distributed policy notices throughout the Department, including to posts worldwide. So -- and we also have an extensive training program to make sure that everybody is aware of how we intend to operate, and to date we have trained 1,572 people. And the Department continues to encourage the use of economy class travel with a rest stop versus authorized premium class travel.

So the short answer to your question is, look, we take this seriously. We take the fact that we are stewards of the taxpayers' money seriously, and that we want to make sure that if there is any premium business class travel that there is a good reason for it and that it -- and also that it falls within established regulations. And part of our effort in doing that is to make sure that there's better information flow, make sure that there's clear accountability and that there's a paper trail here so, in case there is abuse of the system, that can be identified and then we can take appropriate steps.

QUESTION: Okay. So what happens to the -- like the -- in some of the specific instances outlined in this report, particularly one that has 14 people going to Liberia where it cost them like $46,000, are they going to have to refund the difference or does the taxpayer eat that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, Matt, I don't know the specific circumstances cited in reports. You know, I can't tell you the specific --

QUESTION: Well, the report says it was improper. So if someone -- forget about that specific case. If someone does do this improperly, travel in a premium class and they get caught, do they have to make up the difference of the money or what happens?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I can't tell you specifically because I'd have to know the specific circumstances. But I would note in here that we have, as part of our post-2006, March 2006 efforts, we have -- part of our over -- as our oversight programs, we're looking at -- we're evaluating improper payments related to business class travel in accordance with the 2002 act. So that -- you have a mechanism now to go ahead and evaluate whether or not there were improper --

QUESTION: Well, I guess my --

MR. MCCORMACK: Improper expenditures --

QUESTION: The GAO --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- and can we recover some of that.

QUESTION: Right. You can -- you recover it from whom? From the people who --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there is the potential -- there is the potential for that if there was -- yeah, absolutely. I can't tell you that that has happened.

QUESTION: Right. Well, the GAO, who are the, you know, government auditors, say that this was improper. Now, I understand you haven't seen the report, but can you find -- is it possible to find out if people who have been found by auditors to have traveled inappropriately, if they have to -- if that money is recovered from them or if it --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think -- again, I think that, you know, in terms of the Government Accountability* Office being part of it, separate operation, you'd -- it would probably likely be the State Department that would have to take a look and audit that and make those judgments.

I will check for you to see whether or not there has been any reimbursements based on any of these findings or investigations.

QUESTION: Sean, just a quick follow-up. The new rules that you just read, do they also cover senior officials such as under secretaries, assistant secretaries?

MR. MCCORMACK: Everybody.

QUESTION: Everybody. Okay. And I just wanted -- I have another question which is sort of a duty*. But there is a story out today about the merger of a Chinese company with 3M, which is based in Massachusetts, and the issue of some U.S. defense secrets and technology. Have -- are you aware of the case? Do you have any concerns about it?

MR. MCCORMACK: There's a separate channel for dealing with these kinds of questions. It's called the CFIUS process.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR. MCCORMACK: And it is not a channel that -- we have very specific lists of people in the Department who participate in that. Reuben Jeffery is really, rather than the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary, the people that -- really the top day-to-day policy person who's authorized to participate in that -- in that process. It's a process that is very strictly controlled and takes place within a very specific channel, and it's not one that we comment on as a matter of course.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.)

DPB #174


* Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act



Released on October 3, 2007



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