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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 10, 2007


Reports on Land Seizures / Need for Additional Facts
Attempt To Push Peace Process As Far Forward Before Upcoming Meeting
Scowcroft Letter / U.S. Will Look At All Serious Suggestions From Serious People
Will Talk More About Specifics In Coming Weeks, But Not Now
Possibility of Settlement Freeze is Part of Roadmap / Moving Through Process
Meeting Is A Mechanism To Focus Energies of People and Leaders In Region
Do Not Expect Secretary Rice to Issue Invitations During Upcoming Trip
Tony Blair Focused on Helping Build Capacity Needed for Palestinian Statehood
No Current Plans For Trilateral Meeting With Secretary Rice, Abbas and Olmert
Incursions by Turkey Into Iraq Not Best Way to Resolve PKK Issue
Governments Should Work Cooperatively to Address Common Threat
Incursions Could Destabilize the Region / Want to See Them Work Together
Secretary Welcomes Role Of First Lady / Cares Deeply about Burma
Nick Burns And Counterparts Meeting In Europe About Sanctions Resolution
Iran's Need to Comply with Just Demands of the International Community
Secretary Rice and Russian FM Lavrov Committed to Dual Track Approach
Some Tactical Differences With Russians On Timing of Sanctions Resolution
P-5+1 Political Directors Meeting In New York Set For Next Wednesday
Confident President Putin Will Convey Same Message To Iranians
Reports of Japanese Man Held In Iran
Secretary Rice Expects To Take Possession of New Embassy in Timely Manner
Inspections and Some Remediation Work Need to Be Done Before Acceptance


12:44 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have anything to begin with, so we can get right to your questions, whoever wants to lead off.

QUESTION: I can't remember -- I was going to ask you about an update of something from this morning, but I can't remember what it is now, so I will defer.

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll come back to you later.

QUESTION: I would like to know if you have now a reaction to the decision of Israel to confiscate land from Palestinians.

MR. MCCORMACK: Still looking into it, Sylvie. I want to understand better the facts on the ground from our people in the field. I don't have those yet. Soon as I have those, I'd be happy to provide you a reaction.

QUESTION: Well, the other governments reacted. The French Government reacted, said it was -- they were strongly concerned, Egypt said they were extremely concerned, and Jordan said it's a violation of international law and it will have an impact on peace efforts. So your silence is deafening.

MR. MCCORMACK: It's not silence, Sylvie. I have to have facts. I don't have the facts. As soon as I have the facts, I'll be happy to provide you an answer.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: On Turkey, please. Can you tell me what your latest position is on this prospect of incursions by the Turks into northern Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: Same it was yesterday and the day before. We don't think it's the right way to resolve the issue. We think the best way to resolve the issue is that Turkey and the Iraqi -- the Turkish Governments and the Iraqi Governments should work together cooperatively to try to address what is a common threat. The Iraqis don't want to have terrorists on their territory, and certainly the Turks have been dealing with the issue of terrorism from the PKK for decades. And it's an issue that we want to try to help both sides resolve. We've been deeply involved in that. But we don't think unilateral incursions into Iraq is the way to solve the problem.

QUESTION: This parliamentary decision seems pretty imminent. Are you not very concerned about this? At what kind of level are you having conversations? Has Rice spoken to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Our Ambassador has been in there as recently as yesterday to talk with the Turkish Government about a number of different issues, including this one.

QUESTION: Could you just elaborate a bit more? Why is there concern about possible incursions?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have two -- two friends, one a NATO ally, that are trying to work their way through the issue, and what you're seeing as a result of some of the terrorist acts by the PKK is an escalation in tensions. Focus should be on how do you resolve the issue with respect to the PKK, how do you eliminate that kind of threat. If you have these kinds of incursions like many are speculating about in the press, large-scale incursions into Iraq from Turkey, that could be destabilizing to the region. We don't -- we want to see Turkey and Iraq try to work through this. I think -- I think you fully understand the potential implications of that kind of incursion from Turkey into Iraq.

QUESTION: Can I ask a logistical question --


QUESTION: Were you aware that the Secretary and Secretary Gates were going to speak about the Turkish issue at the White House this morning while we were at the gaggle?

MR. MCCORMACK: How far in advance do I have to --

QUESTION: Well, I don't know. Just, you know, it would have been nice to have known if you had known that they had planned -- that they were planning on doing this.

MR. MCCORMACK: I knew post-gaggle.


MR. MCCORMACK: You had all already left the room.


QUESTION: Time Magazine has quoted some Arab officials saying that they are worried that Secretary Rice has not developed a Plan B if Abbas and Olmert can not agree on a framework and timetable that charts the future of the negotiations, and they've asked do the Americans have something ready that they can pull out of their pocket and say these are our suggestions, and will they be willing then to use any kind of encouragement or pressure on Israel to accept certain issues. Do you have answers on these --

MR. MCCORMACK: Plan B is to make Plan A work. The idea here is that failure is not an option. The stakes are too high for the people of the region. And it should be the focus of everybody who wants to see peace between Israel and the Palestinian people to do everything they can to, in the run-up to this meeting, help make the meeting a success, and then from that meeting do everything that we possibly can to move forward to a two-state solution. So Plan B: Make Plan A work.

QUESTION: And what if Olmert and Abbas don't reach an agreement before the fall meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, we are trying to move the process as far forward as we possibly can before the meeting and use the meeting to, as President Bush talked about, try to propel the process forward on both tracks, both on the political front as well as changing the on-the-ground realities.

Yeah, Farah.

QUESTION: There was a bipartisan letter which Scowcroft has signed which will be released today, talking about this very issue and talking about basically urging the Quartet to come up with the outlines of what a permanent peace would look like in the -- you know, should Abu Mazen and Olmert not reach an agreement. They also urge Hamas not to be ignored. They urge you guys not to ignore Hamas and they also said that in order for this conference to be credible, the United States needs to obtain a settlement freeze. And I guess I'm hoping you could respond to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let's take a look at the letter first.


MR. MCCORMACK: This is another one of these -- thanks, very helpful, I'll read it while I'm up here. Look, this is another one of these Washington instances where everybody but us seems to get the letter first. We'll take a look at the letter. Look, if it's --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, if it's a serious letter with serious suggestions from serious people, of course we're going to take a look at it. If there are some good ideas -- look, we don't necessarily have a corner on good ideas. If there are some good ideas out there that we can feed into the process, absolutely we'll take them into account. But our focus is going to be working with both of the parties to try to help them memorialize and come to a variety of different understandings and move the process as far as they possibly can in time for this meeting and to use the meeting as a mechanism to, again, try to take the process up to another level.

We're working very hard in that regard. I'm not going to talk about every possibility that might be considered, where we stand on various issues. That's for the work that's going to happen inside the room.

QUESTION: Are you working feverishly towards a settlement freeze?

MR. MCCORMACK: We are working on a variety of different issues, you know, in the political track and also, as I said to Michel, to change the on the ground realities, the daily life of the Palestinian people as well as the Israeli people. As for any other details of exactly what we're working with the parties about, we may well, in the weeks to come, talk more about that. But at the moment, I'm not going to.

QUESTION: A settlement freeze is hardly a detail and it's something that you guys have called for in the past, so why isn't that --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's part of -- it is part of the roadmap. Look, as I said, as we move through this process, we will likely talk in more detail about (a) what the two parties are doing and then (b) what we might be doing to help them along. But at this point, I don't see the two parties talking in public about what they are discussing and I'm not going to do it for them.

So you know, as you -- as we get closer to this meeting, we're going to have all sorts of advice. You're going to have a lot of posturing from different parties in the region, outside the region. You're going to have a lot of people offering advice and certainly, we'll take all of those things into account. We're not going to react to every suggestion or every public statement that is intended as part of a political negotiating posturing process. We're going to focus on trying to get the work done inside the room, so we'll do more work, less talking.

QUESTION: But just to follow up, I mean, advice aside and I doubt this is the first time you've heard these types of suggestions, but it seems like their expectations for the conference are very high, whereas it seems like in the past, State Department officials have sort of downplayed what they expect to get out of the conference. And that's why I'm wondering -- I mean, you mention the stakes are very high; is this the one shot? Are there going to be -- do you envision it as, you know, a series of many meetings? I mean, what -- can you just --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's a process and just as meetings between the Israelis and Palestinians and us with the Israelis, us with the Palestinians, us with Arab neighbors are part of that process leading up to a meeting, the meeting becomes a mechanism and it becomes the mechanism by which we can focus the energies of peoples and leaders in the region. And hopefully, you can use that meeting to memorialize certain things, certain understandings between the Israelis and the Palestinians and then use that as a way of taking the process up to another level and ultimately, resulting in a two-state solution.


QUESTION: Does the Secretary plan to issue invitations on this trip? I mean, is that one of -- by the end of it?

MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't necessarily look for that on this trip. This is going to be -- she's going to have her sleeves rolled up and we are leaving a phase in this process in which there is a lot of hard work and entering a phase in which there will be a lot of very hard work. So I wouldn't necessarily look for invitations out of this trip. It's intended to talk to each side, the Israelis and Palestinians, about some of their discussions, where they are in their discussions. She will make herself available as a sounding board for both sides and where she thinks it's necessary to try to push the two parties along. Well, she's also going to be meeting with leaders in Egypt and Jordan to talk about the positive role that they can play and other Arab States can play in this process in helping to make this meeting a success.

QUESTION: Why is she not meeting with the Saudis?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we're in contact with the Saudi Government on this as well as other issues. I'm sure there will be a time that she will think it's important to travel to Riyadh. She'll do that when thinks the time's right.

QUESTION: But would it not be a key thing to speak to the Saudis now? I mean, they're looking --

MR. MCCORMACK: That doesn't mean we're not talking to them already. We are.



QUESTION: This morning, I made a somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment about maybe the First Lady would accompany us to the Middle East to, you know, continue on with her apparent takeover of U.S. foreign policy on the Burma front. And I didn't realize it, but you know, shortly after that the White House said that in fact the First Lady is going to the Middle East.

MR. MCCORMACK: Hey. Exactly.

QUESTION: So you know, is the Secretary comfortable with the First Lady taking on such a -- as a high-profile role as a diplomat?

MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely. Absolutely. Why wouldn't she be?

QUESTION: Well, I don't know. It just seemed kind of odd that she's taken such a major role, calling up the Secretary General of the United Nations, speak on behalf of the American people. I mean, she is not an elected official, not a member of the cabinet.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's right. Yeah, that's absolutely right. But certainly, the Secretary welcomes the First Lady playing this kind of role. She cares deeply about these issues. And I think she's spoken quite eloquently certainly about the issue of Burma. And in terms of the trips to the Middle East, I'll let the White House talk about that, but that is focused on a very specific aspect of our diplomacy. So the -- Secretary Rice couldn't be more pleased with the role that the First Lady has chosen to take on a couple of these really important issues.


QUESTION: On the Secretary in issuing the invitations to the international meeting, will this depend on the Abbas and Olmert to reach an agreement or in another way if Abbas and Olmert don't reach an agreement, you won't issue the invitation for the meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Samir, we'll choose the appropriate moment when we think the time is right to issue the invitations. Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas are having some -- having a good round of discussions. They have gotten their various staffs to talk together as a way of following on some of the discussions between the two leaders. I expect that those will continue. We have every expectation that they are going to do everything that it take -- that they possibly can to try and move the process forward and to -- I would fully expect that there's going to be a meeting and that it's going to be a meaningful, substantive meeting and I would expect that in the coming weeks, we'll have some invitations to issue.

QUESTION: Sean, David Welch is apparently out in the region. What's he up to?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he's here right now.*



QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, he's going to be meeting us in Jerusalem. We're taking off with the Secretary tomorrow to head to Moscow and then he's going to be back here following on to do some work and then meet us in Jerusalem.

QUESTION: Tony Blair is out there this week and certainly, judging by the news accounts, he's doing a little bit more than infrastructure-building. Is that -- is his role evolving into something more political?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, he's focused on helping the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority build its capacity. If you're going to have a Palestinian state, it's absolutely essential that they succeed in that effort. You can't have a Palestinian government that is responsive to the needs of the people and that has the confidence of the international community without that kind of capacity-building. So he's doing a lot of good work in that regard.

Of course, the Secretary's going to be interested in hearing whatever insights he may have as he has meetings in the region, but quite clearly, his focus is on that capacity-building issue and the Secretary's working on the political track.

Yeah, Sue.

QUESTION: Are there any plans for a trilateral meeting when the Secretary's in the region with Abbas, Olmert and herself?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not at this point, but if she -- if -- while on the ground, if she thinks it's the right thing to do, then she won't hesitate to try to get the two of them together in the same room.


QUESTION: President Putin said today that he had seen no proof that Iran was involved in a nuclear weapons program. That didn't seem to be a particularly auspicious comment ahead of Secretary Rice's visit to Moscow to discuss, among other things, further sanctions on Iran or its nuclear program. Do you see any reason for confidence that Russia is at all relenting on the -- its reservations about UN sanctions on Tehran?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. As a matter of fact, Nick Burns and his political director counterparts are going to be getting together a week from today in Europe to talk about the elements and language that would comprise a sanctions resolution. Let's all hope that we don't get to the point where we are voting on a sanctions resolution in the -- another sanctions resolution in the Security Council and let's all hope that Iran sees it fit to comply with the just demands of the international community, take the P-5+1 up on what is a very attractive offer.

So it's really in their hands at this point and I can't speak to President Putin's comments, but Secretary Rice was just, on September 28th, together with all of her foreign minister colleagues, including Foreign Minister Lavrov from Russia. And they all reaffirmed their commitment to the dual track approach. And the second part of that track is that if Iran does not meet the demands of the international community, there's going to be another Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Can I just -- your initial answer to the question -- the question was, do you see any sign that the Russians are relenting in their reservations and the first word out of your mouth was no. But then the rest of it was -- it seemed like you were not wanting to say no to that. The answer --

MR. MCCORMACK: My response is intended to indicate, do we see any change in the Russian position and their commitment to the two-track approach, and --

QUESTION: But do you see a change in their reservations about sanctions which have been visible for the last few months?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. We've had some tactical differences with Russia as to the timing of a sanctions resolution, but there hasn't -- they have not fallen off the idea that if Iran does not comply with Security Council demands, and the IAEA demands for that matter, that there's going to be consequences for that in the Security Council in the form of another Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: So there will be a P-5+1 meeting of the political directors?

MR. MCCORMACK: Political directors --

QUESTION: Next Wednesday? Where?


QUESTION: Where in New York?

MR. MCCORMACK: Place and exact time on next Wednesday to be determined. They're working that out right now.

QUESTION: President Putin is traveling next week to Iran --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. For Caspian --

QUESTION: -- to -- yes --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- for Caspian Sea.

QUESTION: Have you any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I understand that this is part of a multilateral effort, the Caspian Sea Conference --

QUESTION: Yes, Caspian Sea nations.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- and we're confident that President Putin is going to convey to the Iranian Government, among other things, the message -- the same message that the rest of the world is sending, and that is that you have an attractive alternative, there's a pathway to negotiations where you can realize what you want to realize, a peaceful nuclear energy program, with objective guarantees for the rest of the world that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon. And you can raise whatever other issue in that forum, which would include the United States, that you want to. And if you don't, then there are going to be consequences for defying -- continuing to defy the international community.

QUESTION: So you're confident that President Putin will tell the Iranians something different than what he said publicly today?

MR. MCCORMACK: We believe that the Russian Government is onboard and they have recently reaffirmed their commitment to the two-track approach, which is what I just described.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean, if he goes there and says, well, Iran, we don't see any proof that you're trying to build a nuclear weapon, you don't see that as problematic?

MR. MCCORMACK: As I said, Matt, we believe and we are fully confident --

QUESTION: I'm not asking about the two-track approach and the resolutions and everything --

MR. MCCORMACK: That's what really matters here. I can't -- look, I've seen some news reports about what President Putin has said. I can't speak to that. To the extent that we need clarification on those remarks, I'm sure that we'll -- that we'll get it.

But the heart of the matter is: Is Russia committed, along with the other members of the P-5+1, to the two-track approach which was outlined back in 2006? Absolutely. We're fully confident of that up and down the -- all levels of the Russian Government.

QUESTION: It's been, I think, almost a week now and -- since Congressman Lantos' letter arrived at Deputy Secretary Negroponte's desk about the embassy in Baghdad, and it's been a day now since you've gotten Chairman Waxman's letter.


QUESTION: Do you have any -- have you gotten yet any clarity from OBO about when this embassy is actually going to open?

MR. MCCORMACK: No change in my answers to those questions which have -- we've talked about over the past couple of days.

QUESTION: Right. Well, but is the Secretary's patience now wearing thin without getting an answer?

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, she expects that when we take possession of the embassy that it is going to be of the quality that we expect and that it will -- that we will take possession of it in a timely manner. I can't tell you exactly when we are going to take possession of the embassy from the contractor. There are still some inspections that need to be done as well as some remediation work that needed to be done. I think Chairman Waxman referred to some of that in his letter, some of it having to do with some of the electrical wiring, some of it having to do with the sprinkler system. So there are still some inspection steps that need to be -- need to be taken.

As soon as I have a date that I am confident in conveying to you, then I will certainly do so.

QUESTION: Well, which raises the question though, as General Williams was up on the Hill testifying in July and then assuring Congressman Lantos in August that it was going to be done by the September date. Do you have confidence in his dates, his date -- deadline dates, target dates for completion?


QUESTION: And if he gives you one, will you be confident enough to come out here and say --

MR. MCCORMACK: He knows -- he has provided -- he provided some sworn testimony up at -- up on the Hill. I'll let General Williams have his interactions with the responsible oversight committees. When have a date that I'm confident in giving to you, I will so do.

QUESTION: Just a quick one. This conference, the peace conference in November, why is it -- what role is the Quartet playing in it and why is it convened by the United States and not the Quartet?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we went over some of this when we first talked about the idea of the meeting and announced the meeting. The Quartet can play an important role and is playing an important role in the run-up to this meeting and I would expect afterwards. And I would expect that they will -- the members of the Quartet will be important participants in it. In terms of why the United States is hosting this meeting, I think that if you look back over the history of this issue, over the decades, the United States has played an important role in trying to move the process forward. By no means are we able to bring about a solution on our own. But I think if you look back in history that everybody agrees -- and if you talk to people today, everybody agrees -- that if you are going to get to a two-state solution the United States is going to have to be -- have to play an important role in bringing about that solution.


QUESTION: Just real quick. There's a report that a Japanese man is being held by an armed group in southeastern Iran. I'm just wondering if you had any --

MR. MCCORMACK: Haven't seen the report. Happy to look into it for you.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:07 p.m.)

DPB # 178

* Assistant Secretary Welch is in Israel and the Palestinian territories this week where he is meeting with a variety of senior officials to discuss a broad range of issues related to regional peace and security in support of the peace process.

Released on October 10, 2007

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