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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 22, 2007


PKK Is Terrorist Organization / No Negotiation / Need to Eliminate Threat
Encourage Turkey and Iraqi Governments to Work Together to Address Threat
PKK Has Been Around For Decades / Will Not Wipe Them Out Overnight
U.S. House Resolution on Armenia / Administration Position Against Resolution
Pat Kennedy's Team / Report on Personal Security Contractor Operations
Secretary Rice's Review / Possible Discussions with Others
U.S.-Mexico Cooperation On Fighting Organized Crime
Query on Mexican Traveling With Tuberculosis
Appointment of New Nuclear Negotiator
Support for Mr. Solana's Efforts / Same Generous Offer To Iranian Government
Varity of Estimates On Iran's Progress on Nuclear Weapon
Syria's Statements on Expulsion of Iraqi Refugees
Syrian Government Should Meet International Obligations For Refugees
Continuing Work With Syrian Government on Visas for DHS Interviewers
Query on Meeting With Ken Sasae of Japanese Foreign Ministry
DAS Alexander Arvizu To Meet with North Korean Officials


12:00 p.m. EDT

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

QUESTION: Can you -- is there anything more to say than you said this morning about the Secretary's calls to the Turks and the Iraqis?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, nothing beyond this morning, what I said this morning.

QUESTION: There's some comments out of the Turkish Government -- or the Iraqi Government, rather, that the PKK might call for a ceasefire in the coming hours. Is that something that the Secretary was pushing with the Iraqis to crack down on the PKK to call for a ceasefire?

MR. MCCORMACK: Our view is that the PKK is a terrorist organization; you can't negotiate with a terrorist organization. The first step is to make sure that there are no further attacks or loss of innocent life as a result of PKK terrorist activities. You also have to deal with the larger question of how do you eliminate threat from a terrorist organization like the PKK. But in terms -- in our view, there is no negotiating with a terrorist organization.

QUESTION: A follow-up?


QUESTION: Yes, Mr. McCormack. During the upcoming Turkish invasion of northern Iraq against the -- (laughter).

MR. MCCORMACK: Hold on, hold on, hold on.

QUESTION: Okay, I frame different way. The son of Jalal Talabani, Qubad Talabani, the Kurdistan Regional Government representative here in Washington, stated, "The U.S. forces are mandated by the UN to protect Iraq's sovereignty and defend Iraq's people." How do you respond?

MR. MCCORMACK: I respond how we've been responding over the past several months on this issue, and that is we are encouraging Turkey and the Iraqi Government to work together to address what is a common threat to them. The PKK is a terrorist organization that needs to be dealt with. Recently, we have seen significant loss of life on the Turkish side and we have condemned those attacks that were perpetrated by the PKK. What that does is it highlights the importance of the Turkish Government and the Iraqi Government working to resolve this issue.

The PKK is not an invention of the past few years. This is something that Turkey has been dealing with and has been quite painful for the Turkish people for decades. So it needs to be dealt with. And we believe the best way to deal with it is for those two countries, those two governments, to work together to deal with it. They're neighbors. That's not going to change. And the best long-term, durable solution for the issue of the PKK is for them to work together to eliminate the threat.


QUESTION: From the other side, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan stated once again that Turkey will invade north Iraq to attack Kurdish rebels despite U.S. objections, saying, "We don't have to get permission from anyone." Any comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros, I'm not sure that that's exactly what they said.


QUESTION: Can I just go back to Elise's question, Sean?


QUESTION: You can't -- you say you can't negotiate with a terrorist organization.


QUESTION: But does that mean that the Secretary did not tell Barzani and that Crocker did not tell Talabani that it would be good for the PKK to cool it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I will say only, Matt, that there are a lot of different ways we can come at this. And the first and immediate step that needs to happen is that you need to see a cessation of attacks by the PKK on the Turks. It has to stop. You have to work to stop those. And you also have to deal with the larger question of how do you -- how do you address the fact that there is a terrorist network operating on Iraqi soil. So I'm not going to get into the details of their conversation, but the first thing you need to do is you need to prevent terrorist attacks. And that is one of the things that we're talking to the Turks about. How do you prevent terrorist attacks?

QUESTION: The Turks. What about to the Iraqis?

MR. MCCORMACK: To the Iraqis. I'm sorry. To the Iraqis.

QUESTION: So, okay, you see this split into two things: the immediate and then the longer term?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, and the reason why I say that is because the PKK has been around for some time. They've been around for decades. So I don't think anybody is under the illusion that overnight you're going to wipe out the PKK. So that is obviously our goal. It's a terrorist organization that needs to be dealt with.

But at the very least, immediately you need to have the Iraqi Government working to prevent those terrorist attacks and the Iraqi Government working with the Turkish Government cooperatively to prevent terrorist attacks.

QUESTION: Well, would you be opposed to the -- or to Kurdish leader -- Iraqi Kurds who are in the government pressing the PKK for -- to -- for a ceasefire? And if there were to be such a ceasefire, as has been announced -- apparently, the Iraqi presidency has announced that there will be one -- how would you react to that? Is that a good thing in the very short term?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, again, Matt, what we want to see is we want to see action from the Iraqi Government to prevent terrorist attacks. And any sort of actions that they may take cooperatively with the Turkish Government or on their own to prevent terrorist attacks should in no way prejudice the long-term solution; that is, to get rid of the PKK.

QUESTION: Understood. But you do -- you would not objective if the Iraqi Kurds -- the Kurdish -- Iraqi Kurd -- if the Iraqi Government officials who happen to be Kurds use their influence with the PKK, if they have any, to tell them to stop it?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll just say we want to see the Iraqis act.

QUESTION: Well, when you --


QUESTION: I mean, you keep saying that you want to see the Iraqi Government act. Does that mean that you think they have not acted firmly enough so far? Are you disappointed with their reaction?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to characterize what they have or have not done over the past period of time. What clearly needs to happen is that we need to see these terrorist attacks stopped, and we want to see the Iraqis and the Turks working cooperatively together to prevent any further attacks and also to talk about how you deal long term with this threat and eliminating the threat.


QUESTION: When you talk about that the PKK is a terrorist organization that needs to be dealt with in the long term, what do you mean? Do you mean a disbanding of the PKK that --

MR. MCCORMACK: As we would deal with any terrorist organization. It needs to be eliminated.

QUESTION: No. You want the PKK -- the Iraqis to take steps to completely disband the PKK?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to come up with a detailed prescription here, but it needs to be eliminated.

QUESTION: And if you have a -- is there a reaction or would there be a reaction, a positive reaction, from you if the PKK did declare a ceasefire in the short term?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we want to see an end to these attacks. We want to see the Iraqis act. But again, none of that should be read as any way backing off the long-term solution.


MR. MCCORMACK: I know, I know, I know. But I'm not going to go any further than I have.

QUESTION: So what does the United States plan to do to help the Iraqis eliminate the PKK?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we think it's up to the Iraqi Government to act on this. We are encouraging them to work cooperatively with the Turkish Government on it. Since this is -- the PKK traditionally has been up along the border region, Iraqi border region with Turkey, and they launch these attacks from Iraqi territory into Turkey, so it makes some sense that you would have the two governments work together to deal with the threat and then eventually get rid of it and eliminate it.

QUESTION: But what did Secretary Rice promise the Prime Minister of Turkey when she spoke to him?

MR. MCCORMACK: She promised him that we were going to continue to work as hard as we possibly can to encourage the two sides to work together.

QUESTION: What do you think your leverage is right now with the Turks, especially given the passage of the genocide resolution by the Foreign Affairs Committee?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we try to keep the two issues separate. We have a --


MR. MCCORMACK: I know, and we have tried to explain to the Turkish Government and to the Turkish people that, as with their system, we have -- you know, there are different power centers within the United States Government; the Executive Branch is responsible for our foreign policy. And the passage of that resolution we made very clear does in no way reflect the views of the Administration. I think they got that message. I think they understood it.

That said, it's a pretty emotional issue in Turkey. They have worked over the course of years to try to present some constructive proposals for dealing with the issue of these mass killings. So I can't tell you where it stands right now in terms of the full House voting on it. We certainly hope that it does not come to a vote in the full House. We have encouraged the leadership of the House not to bring it to the floor for a full vote, but that's going to be up to them.


MR. MCCORMACK: All we can do is continue to make clear this in no way represents the foreign policy of the United States.

QUESTION: But didn't Secretaries Rice and Gates make it clear that that was -- one potential complication of this even being passed by the committee was --

MR. MCCORMACK: It makes it --

QUESTION: -- made it more difficult to help to be able to convince the Turks to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it does. You know, and I think it stands to reason. Any man in the street would understand you have -- the Turks are dealing with a very tough issue of loss of innocent life from a terrorist group, PKK, something that's happened over a long period of time and it's very painful for the Turkish people. Combine that with -- from the Turkish side the perception that somehow somebody is bringing into question the U.S.-Turkish relationship. Now, of course we know that there's no basis in fact to that perception because the U.S.-Turkish relationship is solid. We are NATO allies and the Turks have no better friends than the United States Government. But when you're looking at it from the other side, from the Turkish side, and they have their own domestic politics that play out, just as the United States has its own domestic politics, it makes it harder.

QUESTION: On the same subject. Any plan by the Secretary Condoleezza Rice to visit Ankara on this issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: On this issue?


MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we plan to go to the Istanbul Iraq neighbors meeting --

QUESTION: Yes, I know.

MR. MCCORMACK: And we'll keep you up to date on whether or not there are any other stops in Turkey. But it wouldn't be just on this issue. Of course, we visited Ankara --

QUESTION: And one more question on the same issue. The Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani stated yesterday that, "Baghdad could not deliver Kurdish rebel leaders to Turkey. The Iraqis would be unable to succeed where the Turkish military had already failed. It's a dream that cannot be realized." Anything to say on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Lambros, I think our view is clear that we are looking for the Iraqi Government to work with the Turkish Government on the issue and also looking for them to act.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Has Pat Kennedy briefed the Secretary yet and do you have the results of his review panel yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: Pat Kennedy, General Joulwan, Ambassador Roy and Eric Boswell did brief the Secretary on their recommendations in their report. She has a copy of it. She is going to take a close look at it. She wants to read it carefully, consider it. She also wants to speak with Secretary Gates about the report. And I would expect that once she has an opportunity to do those things that we're going to act promptly on the recommendations. But at this point, I'm not prepared to release the report or to get into any more detail about its contents. Suffice it to say, it did meet the Secretary's mandate of a report that was probing, that was 360 and looked at all the aspects of contractor operations -- personal security contractor operations in Iraq, including rules of engagement, legal authorities and management oversight, as well as coordination with other U.S. Government entities, mainly the U.S. military in Iraq.

QUESTION: Secretary Gates was critical on Thursday -- I think it was -- about the use of some security contractors in which he said that sometimes their actions were counter to the overall sort of goal in Iraq. I wondered whether you had any response to that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's been part of our concern is that we want to make sure that as we're protecting our people in doing their work, which benefits the Iraqi people and the building of Iraqi democratic institutions, you don't do it in such a way that you undermine the goals that you are trying to achieve -- the military as well as the State Department. So that is, in fact, an important issue because you want to make sure that you are not undercutting yourself in achieving the very goals that you've set out for yourselves.

So again, we will -- the Secretary is going to take a close look at the report. I would expect that she is going to be the most critical reader of the report. And "critical" I don't mean as in taking issue with it, but in terms of reading it for its content and whether or not it -- the conclusions and recommendations are going to meet the goals that she set out for herself and make sure that when she does take action, when she does act on the recommendations, that they are going to have a positive effect.

QUESTION: When was that -- the briefing?

MR. MCCORMACK: The meeting?

QUESTION: Was it during the gaggle, while we were in the gaggle?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it was just afterwards, yeah.

QUESTION: Shortly after?

MR. MCCORMACK: Just afterwards, yeah.

QUESTION: So after her speech?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, after her speech. Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, do you expect that now that she's received the recommendations from Pat Kennedy that she'll be reaching out to other officials, perhaps from Diplomatic Security or the Embassy or -- to get their input as to how these recommendations can be implemented?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm sure that once she's had a chance to read it, once she's had a chance to talk to Secretary Gates about it, and we want to make sure that he has an opportunity to read it carefully as well, that she's going to talk to Ryan Crocker about his thoughts concerning what the team found and what their recommendations are. But ultimately, this is going to be a decision that she takes herself.

QUESTION: Has Crocker seen --

QUESTION: Secretary Gates is not in the country right now. When would you expect for that --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have these two tin cans and a piece of string that we can --

QUESTION: Yes, I understand. (Laughter.) But it's awfully late in Ukraine or wherever it is that he was.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's right. Well, we'll make sure he gets a copy of it.

QUESTION: And are you sure you want to characterize State Department communications technology as two cans and a string?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I was --

QUESTION: That was a joke. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: As was mine. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Is there any reason that she would need to speak with Blackwater about the findings of the report or are they cut out of the loop on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't see any reason why she would be speaking with the contractor.

QUESTION: Have you received a copy of the Iraqi investigation into the September 17 incident? On Thursday, the security advisor --

QUESTION: The 16th.

QUESTION: The 16th -- did I say 17? 16th.

MR. MCCORMACK: I wasn't going to say anything, but -- sorry.

QUESTION: Thank you. The -- as the -- one of the advisors to the President was saying last week that the -- their investigation had found Blackwater had acted irresponsibly and they called once again for Blackwater to be pulled out and said that this was indeed the State Department's position that you also thought they should be pulled out.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't speak for them. They don't speak for us. I don't know that we have received a copy of the report. I'll check into it for you.

QUESTION: And in terms of Blackwater --

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, I don't try to speak for them. They shouldn't try to speak for us.


QUESTION: Sean, sort of a follow-up on private security contractors, this time military contractors. Can you confirm that the U.S. and Mexico will have a new anti-drug plan where private military contractors will train the Mexican troops? And there's been some concern raised about their role given our experiences in Iraq.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, first of all, on the U.S.-Mexico cooperation on fighting organized crime as well as some other activities -- transport, production of drugs -- there's probably going to be a little bit more on that later on today, so I'm going to not say anything about it. And we can get into the details of any proposals that might come out over the next several days. I don't know if that will come from here or elsewhere.

But you know, look -- you know, on the issue of -- the issue of contractors, contractors work to support the U.S. Government in all variety of missions abroad, here domestically, so one thing that people shouldn't do is paint contractor support with a broad brush. There are good contractors. There are bad contractors. Just like there are good U.S. Government employees, there are bad U.S. Government employees. If people are playing outside the lines, breaking the rules, they're going to be held to account whether they're contractors or whether they're U.S. Government employees.


QUESTION: Speaking of Mexico, there was a case that was reported last week about a Mexican citizen with a serious case of TB that took quite a few flights, domestic flights, within the U.S. I know that DHS is dealing with this and border authorities, but do you know if his visa -- because apparently he had a valid U.S. visa -- was given to him after he had been diagnosed with --

MR. MCCORMACK: Don't know.

QUESTION: You don't?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you.

QUESTION: All right, thanks.


QUESTION: Iran, please. Do you have any reaction to the new negotiator that's been instated?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll see. I don't know if it will make any difference in the Iranian Government's reaction to the generous offer that's been put before it. We'll see. We still support Mr. Solana in his efforts to talk to the Iranians and try to convince them that they should meet the demands of the international community. There is a very attractive offer that is on the table for the Iranians and it really addresses, we think, one of their stated core concerns, and that is having access to civilian nuclear power. And we are prepared to talk about that as well as any other issue within the context of the P-5+1 if they just meet the demands that have been laid out for them by the Security Council.

I can't tell you if this -- the appointment of this individual is going to make any difference in either the tone or the substance of the response. We'll see. Our insight to the decision-making processes of the Iranian Government is pretty limited, so I can't tell you what this portends for their position when they get together with Mr. Solana.

QUESTION: Have you had any dealings with him before?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to check. The name is not familiar in terms of our having dealt with him. It may have been the case. But I'll check for you.

QUESTION: And what do you make of this letter that Mottaki sent to the French Foreign Minister basically saying that -- just issuing a warning really and saying that their position is illogical and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I suppose if he's taking a position -- issue with the position of the French Government, he's taking issue with the position of most of the rest of the world. And the Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors have bent over backwards to try to accommodate stated Iranian interests, yet they continue to delay, obfuscate and defy the international community. And there are consequences for their continuing defiance of the international community. And I expect that that will take the form, at least in the Security Council, of additional sanctions. It's not our preferred course of action. We wish it -- that it were different. But that is not the case.

QUESTION: And talking of the IAEA, what do you make of ElBaradei's recent comments that he's predicting three to eight years before Iran could acquire the bomb?

MR. MCCORMACK: There are a variety of different estimates in terms of where Iran is in their progress towards developing a nuclear weapon. I think our intelligence community has their own assessments. I don't off the top of my head know exactly what it is, but we do make public assessments and I would just have to fall back on those.

QUESTION: Are you saying that his assessments are at odds with your assessments?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would have -- go ahead and check the publicly available documents. I don't -- I can't tell you off the top of my head where we stand in public on that.


QUESTION: Sean, the Syrians say that they want to expel the 1.5 million Iraqis who have sought refuge in Syria over the period of the last four years. I know that we aren't on the best of terms with the Syrians, but are you trying to work out some agreement between they and the Iraqis and ourselves? I know you've given or wanted to give assistance to some of those refugees in Syria.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's a real issue of concern to us, Joel. And the Syrian Government has made a number of different contradictory public statements about whether or not they want to continue to allow Iraqis seeking refuge into Syria. We, as well as others in the international community, would encourage the Syrian Government to meet their international obligations with respect to refugees. These are people who are fleeing a very difficult situation in Iraq and we would encourage the Syrians to act in a humane manner with respect to many of these people who are leaving their homes under very difficult circumstances.

And we're trying to do our part throughout the region to help those children who have fled with their families to have access to education as well as basic humanitarian needs for the people that have fled. But this is a truly international effort. This is not a U.S.-Syria issue. We are continuing to try to work with the Syrian Government on one aspect of -- I guess, one bilateral aspect of the issue, and that is allowing the Syrian Government -- getting the Syrian Government to issue visas for our Department of Homeland Security people who are interviewing some of those Iraqis who have been qualified as refugees who have stated that they want to resettle in the United States. Thus far, that's been a bottleneck because our people have not been able to get into Syria and we'd like to have those people get into Syria and be able to perform that function.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Nicholas.

You've had enough, Lambros. You've had enough.

QUESTION: Sean, you have your own processes when it comes to refugees and you follow UNHCR rules and clearly don't allow people -- Iraqis or anybody else -- into the country unless they've gone through that process. Are you saying that Iraq's neighbors, including Syria, have the obligation to admit anyone before they've gone through any such processes?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are certain obligations that countries have with respect to allowing in those people who are seeking refuge from -- who are in extremis for a variety of different reasons. There are international obligations with respect to that.

QUESTION: Mr. Ken Sasae from the Japanese Foreign Ministry will be in town tomorrow.


QUESTION: Ken Sasae.


QUESTION: Ambassador Hill's counterpart for six-party.


QUESTION: Do you have any preview for their meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm afraid I don't. I'm afraid I don't. I know that Chris works very well with him.

QUESTION: And do you have anything new on the U.S.-North Korea bilateral that's supposed to happen this week, the new -- the sub-level working group?

MR. MCCORMACK: There was -- somebody gave me something about this. I guess our Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan Alexander Arvizu plans to meet with North Korean officials today, October 22nd, in New York to discuss bilateral matters referred to in the October 3rd agreement. So that's new for you. Yeah.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Lambros, you've had enough.

In the back.

QUESTION: On a related subject. Is Negroponte planning on meeting with the Director General of the Japanese Foreign Ministry?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can check for you. I don't know off the top of my head. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:27 p.m.)

DPB # 186

Released on October 22, 2007

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