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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 13, 2007


USAID IG Report / Anti-Terrorism Vetting Procedures
Audits of Activities in West Bank and Gaza / USAID Given Clean Bill of Health
Letter to Secretary Rice from Senator Durbin on CIA Interrogations
Secretary Rice Meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov / Discussed P5+1
Results of Nick Burns and P5+1 Political Directors Conference Call
Each Government Will Review Draft Resolution / Tactical Differences
Strategic Agreement on Two Pathways Approach
Need to Increase Diplomatic Pressure on Iran
Comment on Arrest of Foreign Operatives / DOJ and FBI Handled Case
Not a Matter of U.S. Foreign Policy but of Application of U.S. Law
U.S.-Iran-Iraq Security Talks Postponed Due to Schedule Conflict
Upcoming Meeting Between Fried and Negroponte and FM of Macedonia
Greece and Macedonia Name Issue
Aware of CRS Report of North Korea Support to Hezbollah and Tamil Tigers
Stand Behind Patterns of Global Terrorism Report
Ongoing Assessment of North Korea Presence on State Sponsor of Terror List
Indian Rights Activists Arrested
Expect Those Arrested Would be Provided Full Protection Under Malaysian Law


12:54 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have any opening statements, so we can get right into your questions. Who wants to start? Matthew.

QUESTION: Yeah, I understand the Secretary spoke by phone this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I presume that they weren't discussing a new textbook for the Cuban -- on the Cuban missile crisis for your White House colleague to read up on, but what did they talk about?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't talked to her about the phone call. I know that they have -- I think they met in Brussels and I know that they were going to have a discussion, which I actually thought was yesterday, in which they talked about the P-5+1 process.

QUESTION: There's a -- I think it's TASS or something that says they spoke Thursday, which is --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it's --

QUESTION: It was yesterday?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yesterday, yeah --

QUESTION: (Inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Wednesday, December 12th. They did speak about the P-5+1 process and talked about where we are in the consideration of the draft that has been now re-circulated in the wake of Nick Burns -- or the P-5+1 political directors meeting which -- conference call which occurred earlier this week.

They had a good discussion. It was constructive. And I think the take away from it was that each of the governments -- and the Russians and the United States -- are going to look at the draft that's been re-circulated and get the political directors back together again, probably be a conference call, date not yet scheduled, to take a look at the draft and see if we can get closure on it in the not-too-distant future.

QUESTION: And have the tactical differences at all been narrowed if not resolved?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, nothing's done until everything's done. So, you know, we're not there yet in terms of coming to agreement on a resolution. But our hope is that in the coming weeks that we're going to be able to come to closure on a resolution and get a vote on it and have it pass.

QUESTION: Sean, you speak about tactical differences, but the British speak of deep differences between the Europeans, the U.S. on one side and China and Russia on the other side.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that's the difference between American English and English spoken by the inhabitants of the U.K.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the original vocabulary. (Laughter)

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, the fact of the matter is that you have -- you still have strategic agreement on the two pathways approach, the fact that you have to continue to increase diplomatic pressure on Iran to get them to change their minds in the absence of any agreement to go down a pathway of negotiations. So I term anything short of that tactical differences in terms of negotiating language in a resolution. I don't think in terms of if we move beyond the specific wording of how we describe the process that there is really any substantive difference between what we're saying. The fact of the matter is we're commenting on where we are in the process of negotiating another UN Security Council resolution, so that's what I consider tactical. That's what I would classify as tactical and I think we're talking about the same thing.

QUESTION: Well, they say also that they don't expect a new resolution in the next few weeks?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I, as you know, have not dared put dates on the passage of any particular Security Council resolution as we have gone through the process over the past year or so. I would expect, though, in the coming weeks, that we will probably have a resolution, one that's voted on, and one that is passed.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary discuss the CFE Treaty or any of the issues that John Rood is going to be discussing today? And do you have any readout from his meetings? I don't know if they're concluded or not.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I don't. The -- I don't know if they touched on CFE at all. I think -- I did talk to the Secretary about her call yesterday. If there were one today, I hadn't talked to her about that one. They talked about P-5+1 primarily and a little bit on Kosovo. I don't know if they touched on anything else.

QUESTION: Do you have any -- I don't know if the Rood meetings are over yet, but have you heard anything from Hungary, John Rood's meetings with the Russians?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't, no. I haven't, no.


QUESTION: New topic?


QUESTION: Venezuela; I was wondering if you have any reaction to the arrests of these four Venezuelans.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, I know the Department of Justice has come out and talked a bit about the case and the arrest. This has been an operation that was originated and handled completely by the Department of Justice and the FBI. So they have talked about the reasons behind the arrest. Essentially, it boils down to the arrests of foreign operatives conducting activities on U.S. soil in contravention of U.S. law.

Now beyond that, I don't think I have much more comment. I know that the representatives or the prosecutors from the Department of Justice have talked a little bit about the background of the case and what they think these individuals were doing. This is not a foreign policy matter. This is a matter of application of U.S. law.

QUESTION: Well, at the same -- even though it's not a foreign policy matter, the arrests, but --


QUESTION: -- do you think that this situation changes, in any way, the relationship between the U.S. and the Government of Venezuela or the relationship between the U.S. and the new Government of Argentina?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I don't -- this is not a -- this is -- like I said, this is not a matter of U.S. foreign policy or U.S.-Argentine relations. It's a matter of application of U.S. law and if there are individuals who are engaged in activities in contravention of our law on U.S. soil, regardless of where they're from, they're going to be prosecuted. And I don't want to say anything that would possibly hinder the ability of our people to successfully prosecute a case.

QUESTION: Do you -- is there any reason why you waited until the swearing-in of the new president to make the announcement?

MR. MCCORMACK: It wasn't -- it wasn't a State Department issue. This was completely an issue for the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: But did you ask the Justice to wait until the swearing-in of the new president?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any interaction in that regard. We were aware of the case, but that was the extent of our involvement and I have to underline here that this is, in case you didn't get it, a Department of Justice-FBI operation.

QUESTION: Sean, has the Department or the Embassy in Caracas asked for any clarification from the Venezuelans or complained or issued any sort of --

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. Not that I'm aware of, no.

QUESTION: Well, how about in (inaudible)? Have they heard from -- the Argentine president is apparently not too happy. What would you say to her when she says that this is --

MR. MCCORMACK: Says what? I hadn't seen her comments.


QUESTION: She said the U.S. is trying to subordinate countries they don't agree with. She said that you're trying to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, this is not an issue of U.S.-Argentine relations. This is a matter of U.S. law enforcement enforcing U.S. laws on U.S. soil.


QUESTION: Sean, do you have confirmation of the talks in Baghdad with Iran postponed, being postponed?

MR. MCCORMACK: We did check into that. Apparently, we were perfectly prepared to early next week have these -- have this meeting as scheduled. And apparently, there was some scheduling conflict on the other side. Understand that and we're going to look for another mutually convenient date.

QUESTION: The other side being Iran, not Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's right. The Iraqis have been involved in this in terms of serving as a facilitator to find dates and so forth and so on, on the logistical aspects of it. We were prepared to meet early next week.

QUESTION: So the Iraqis came to you and said the Iranians can't make it?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know the -- I don't know the specifics of who came to whom. But at the same -- the bottom line came out that there were some scheduling conflicts on the other side and they said can we look for another date. And our response is sure.

Yeah. Rosen.

QUESTION: How are you?

MR. MCCORMACK: Doing okay. Thank you for asking.

QUESTION: Part of the --

MR. MCCORMACK: None of you have -- (laughter).

QUESTION: I want to ask about the latest report by the Inspector General of USAID.


QUESTION: And this concerns taxpayer assistance to a number of institutions in West Bank and Gaza, among them Islamic University in Gaza, controlled by Hamas.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. There are two different Islamic universities there. There's the open one and there's another one. But yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: But the one in question that received taxpayer dollars.


QUESTION: And Congressman Mark Kirk, whose inquiries about this prompted these reports --


QUESTION: -- has written to the Inspector General now of the State Department, who I understand has other things on his mind at the time, but requesting that there be an overall audit of anti-terrorism vetting procedures in the West Bank and Gaza and around the world. First off, is this something the Secretary supports, an audit along these lines?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, Inspector Generals operate in a separate channel, if you will, and we never comment on any investigations they may be considering or have underway. To the extent they talk about their investigations, they do that themselves and they do their own press releases on that.

In terms of this issue, I did look into it a bit. It's a complicated issue, but I do understand that over the past year and a half or so there have been three separate audits on the activities of USAID in West Bank and Gaza in terms of to whom they provide funds and what the safeguarding procedures are and what the vetting procedures are. And my understanding is that the bottom line takeaway from all of the three audits is that the USAID in West Bank and Gaza has been given essentially a clean bill of health. Now, I would advise you to talk further with the folks over at USAID to walk you through the specifics of these reports. I haven't read them myself, so frankly I'm not comfortable in talking about them.

QUESTION: How can you say that you understand the agency to have been given a clean bill of health on this score when, in fact, the audits show that U.S. taxpayer funds were provided to an entity that is controlled by a Foreign Terrorist Organization?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, James, like I said, these are reports that I have not read myself and that this is one of those cases, if I haven't read it myself and gone through the material myself and read it and understand it and have been able to analyze it myself and talk to people about it, I'm not going to walk you through it. The folks over at USAID are perfectly prepared to talk to you about it.

QUESTION: How did you arrive at the notion that the agency was given a clean bill of health?

MR. MCCORMACK: This is -- again, this is the summary material that's been given to me, and I give it to you with the caveats that this is the information that's been provided to me. I have no reason to doubt it. But if I'm faced with the circumstance that I haven't been able to glance at the original source material in this kind of thing, I'm not -- I'm just not going to walk through it when there are people who are perfectly prepared to talk to you about it on the record.

QUESTION: One last attempt, if I might, without regard to the specifics of the report itself, Representative Kirk writes, that either this -- and I think we can agree that it is an indisputable fact that this taxpayer funding did go to this institution and that that institution is, in fact, controlled by Hamas and known to have been controlled by Hamas. In view of that fact, Representative Kirk writes, and I quote, "Either the Department of State willfully violated U.S. law and cleared the Islamic University in Gaza for taxpayer assistance or the Department's antiterrorism vetting procedures are woefully inadequate." And can you address that assertion?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, James. Look, you can talk to USAID about the specific reports, but of course, there's not willful defiance of the law. And in terms of the cooperation with those people who have information that could be useful in vetting procedures, the summary material that I was given said that this was done repeatedly and that there was an open channel of communication and full transparency in that regard. But again, for the details -- for a detailed response, you can talk to the folks over at USAID.

QUESTION: One last pursuit here. Is Secretary of State Rice satisfied that the antiterrorism vetting procedures of USAID and other agencies of the State Department are adequate?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't talked to her about it, James, but she expects that people would not only follow the letter of the law, but go beyond that and make sure that anything that we do is in compliance with the spirit of the law.

QUESTION: Sean, the summary material that you're talking about was provided to you by AID?


QUESTION: And that the three audits were conducted by AID or by the inspector general?

MR. MCCORMACK: By the -- one of them was conducted by their regional inspector general.

QUESTION: Okay, who operates under their IG?


QUESTION: So in other words, this wasn't AID auditing itself. It was the IG's office auditor.

MR. MCCORMACK: There was an inspector general element involved in this, yeah.


QUESTION: On FYROM, Mr. McCormack, anything to say about tomorrow's meeting between the FYROM delegation and their senior officials here at the State Department and may we have the names of your side?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that Dan Fried and --

MR. CASEY: And the Deputy Secretary.

MR. MCCORMACK: And the Deputy Secretary Negroponte will be meeting with the Foreign Minister -- the Foreign Minister of Macedonia tomorrow here, and I believe he is up on the Hill today.

QUESTION: One more question. The U.S. House of Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Gus Bilirakis, John Sarbanes and Zach Space in a joint letter released yesterday once again expressed their support of H 356 resolution, which calls FYROM to stop now the violations of a UN interim agreement between Greece and FYROM and should not -- excuse me -- and should work for a mutually acceptable official name. Any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've made our decision with respect to the name of Macedonia.



QUESTION: The Congressional Research Service Report leaked the other day, I guess, or came out the other day --


QUESTION: -- suggesting that North Korea had provided arms to Hezbollah --


QUESTION: -- as well as the Tamil Tigers. Do you have anything more on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Only to the extent that we are aware of the report and aware of its contents. It's safe to say that we stand behind the Patterns of Global Terrorism report, which says that North Korea has not been engaged in any terrorist activity since 1987, at least that we have been able to detect. There is currently ongoing an assessment of North Korea and its presence on the terrorist list. That's an ongoing assessment. It hasn't been finalized yet. It looks at activity right up to the most recent months.

And we are going to make sure that that assessment is done in full compliance with U.S. law with respect to the letter and the spirit of the law and we'll see where it comes out. We'll see what the result is. I am not in a position to verify that information. I'm not sure what the source of the information was that was contained in the report.

QUESTION: Will this assessment that you're talking about take into account the CRS report?

MR. MCCORMACK: It will take into account all available sources of information. Again, I can't -- I know that the particular news report that you're referencing sources the CRS report. I can't tell -- I can't tell you from where or vouch for the source of the information that led to that -- include this allegation in the report.


QUESTION: Are you aware of a letter written yesterday by Senator Durbin to Secretary Rice asking her to expand the inquiry into the CIA interrogations and look into other security services from other countries had taped the interrogations of CIA prisoners?

MR. MCCORMACK: I guess I'm aware of the letter now.

QUESTION: I thought you had --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I am not -- no, I am not aware of that.

QUESTION: Is that something the Secretary would consider?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let's take a look at the letter and see what it has to say and then we'll provide the Senator a response.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: The Indians, the (inaudible) this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yes, I did ask about that and my understanding is that there was an arrest and that our expectation as a government is that they -- these individuals would be provided the full protections under Malaysian law, that they would be given due process, that they would be -- they would be accorded all the rights accorded to any other citizen and that this be done in a speedy and transparent manner. I would also reiterate that it is our firm position that those individuals who want to peacefully express themselves in a political forum or any other forum should be allowed to do so.


MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:11 p.m.)

DPB # 215

Released on December 13, 2007

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