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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 20, 2008


Secretary Rice's Call to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang
Secretary Rice Reiterated Call for Restraint and Dialogue with the Dalai Lama
Chinese Government Reaction to Protests / Reports of Arrest of Protestors
US Embassy Request for Access to Lhasa
US Position on Possible Boycott of Olympics
Brussels Meeting on Name Issue
Treasury Department's Listing of Iranian Banks
International Community's Efforts to Not Allow Iranian Government to Misuse International Financial System
UN Member States Compliance with Iran Sanctions Reporting Requirements
Travel Warning /Treatment of Americans of Palestinian Origin Entering/Exiting Israel
Letter to Secretary Rice from James Zogby of the Arab American Institute
New Usama bin Laden Tape / Authenticity


12:40 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I don’t have any foreign policy notes to begin with, other than to note that the Boston Red Sox have touched down in Japan, which they’ll start the regular season on Tuesday to defend their world championship. So there again, I’m trying to weave in Boston Red Sox and foreign policy; I thought this was a natural.

QUESTION: Did Ambassador Hill pass on that one?

MR. MCCORMACK: He did, Barry. He did. He, along with the rest of Red Sox Nation at the State Department, though, wishes them well in defense of their title this year.

QUESTION: Well, that won’t help the situation --

MR. MCCORMACK: Or we can get down to foreign policy issues and questions.

QUESTION: Yeah, you told us this morning that the Secretary had called the Chinese Foreign Minister and asked for restraint in actions against the Tibetans.


QUESTION: Well, you know, are there any other approaches you are entertaining or have taken? Because the repression, if that’s what it is, and I think it is, is proceeding, is growing stronger.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, just to repeat for you from the briefing, the Secretary did speak with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang last night our time, about 8:15 or so. The call lasted about 20 minutes. And I’m not going to get into all the details of the phone call, but she reiterated our call for restraint on the part of the Chinese Government when they’re dealing with protestors in these areas. Violence doesn't serve anybody’s purposes. And she also underlined our call for the Chinese Government to enter into a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, as well as to respect the multiethnic composition of the Chinese state and to work to expand basic rights and freedoms for all Chinese citizens.

QUESTION: Well, speaking -- I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The day before yesterday, the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the Chinese would be willing to engage with the Dalai Lama with certain conditions. After this phone call with the Chinese counterpart, do you have the same feeling that maybe that it would be possible that the Chinese could engage with the Dalai Lama?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ll leave it to the British to characterize their phone call -- the Prime Minister’s phone call with the Chinese. I’ll let the Chinese characterize their views on engagement with the Dalai Lama. I can give you a general description of our side of the phone call. I’ll let them describe their side of the phone call. I can only reiterate what the Secretary has said in public, what President Bush has said in public as recently as this past October when he attended the Gold Medal ceremony for the Dalai Lama up in Congress, and that is the Chinese Government should engage with the Dalai Lama in a dialogue. He is a man of peace. He is a man of reconciliation. As for the Chinese views, I’ll let them describe that -- those views for themselves.

QUESTION: But are you hopeful it could happen?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you know, we’ve been calling for this for some time. Certainly, now would be as appropriate a time as ever for that dialogue to take place. Again, I reiterate, we believe he is a man of peace, he is a man of reconciliation, and one whom the Chinese Government can have a dialogue with.


QUESTION: Going back to what you said earlier about our urging the Chinese to respect the multiethnic nature of the Chinese state --


QUESTION: -- and you know, the rights of people, this morning, you didn’t have a comment on the arrest of dozens of people allegedly involved in the protests in Tibet. Do you feel that this was an appropriate step by the Chinese authorities, or do you think that in arresting so many people, they are perhaps violating the rights of people who were protesting?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can’t comment on the specific reports just because we ourselves don’t have access to the facts. Now, we have requested access to those areas, including Lhasa, so that we can have our own on-the-ground assessment of what has happened and what is ongoing. Absent access to those kinds of facts, I can’t offer a definitive response to these kinds of reports. Now, I’m not trying to call into question the reports. I’m just saying that we can’t – I can’t give you a response to that. I don’t – I can’t tell you to what the Chinese Government was reacting exactly in terms of particular incidents, and I can’t – I don’t have – we don’t have a clear sense of how the Chinese Government has reacted to specific and particular incidences. That is why our Embassy has underscored the importance of allowing access to these areas just so we, as well as others, can have a clearer understanding of exactly what has happened and what is going on in those areas.

QUESTION: And the Chinese Government has consistently rejected your requests or has not responded or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll just put it this way. Thus far, they have not been granted.

QUESTION: And one other thing. You, this morning, used slightly stronger language when you talked about urging – I mean, you said that she strongly urged --

MR. MCCORMACK: Strongly urged. I’m not trying to back away from it. She strongly urged the Chinese Government to exercise restraint in dealing --

QUESTION: In the phone call?

MR. MCCORMACK: In the phone call, yes. Yeah, thank you for that.


QUESTION: As a follow-on to the call, what else can the United States do to impress this upon the Chinese?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, all we can do, Charley, is appeal to the Chinese Government to deal with this matter in an appropriate manner. At this point, I don’t have any other announcements in terms of actions the U.S. Government is considering or is taking. But at this point, we are at the point, for the past several days, where we have been urging restraint, urging all parties to turn away from any use of violence and to start a dialogue so that you can move beyond this very difficult, very difficult time.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? There’s something --


QUESTION: -- that perplexes me.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, please.

QUESTION: I mean, the thing that perplexes me is you keep talking about all – calling on all parties to, you know, exercise restraint and not resort to violence and you said violence serves nobody’s purposes. Are you – even though you don’t have American diplomats on the ground who are able to tell you what’s going on there, are you implicitly trying to say that the Chinese authorities are – you know, are using – are behaving violently or using excessive force in dealing with the protestors?

MR. MCCORMACK: Arshad, I mean, you know, we just don’t know. I’m not trying to imply anything at this point. We have all seen the news reports. And again, I can’t – I’m not in a position to call any of those news reports into question, whether or not they’re reported in context or any of the details surrounding them. I’m not trying to call into question. We have seen previous instances, if you look in – look throughout history, where Chinese officials have used – in this particular area in Tibet, they have used force. I think you can look at

your news reports going back -- you know, going back some time. So again, it is natural, and when you have incidents like this, to urge the governments, in this case China, to exercise restraint when dealing with protestors.

QUESTION: Have you been monitoring independently military traffic heading to Lhasa, Tibet? Are you able to witness any of the big military buildup that apparently is going on there?

MR. MCCORMACK: I couldn't say, Lachlan. You know, certainly, we have many capabilities to monitor a lot of different events going on around the world, but I'm not at liberty really to talk about what it is we may be doing at any particular time in terms of monitoring those kinds of events. I can say that our Embassy has requested access to those areas, and thus far that access has not yet been granted.


QUESTION: Does that mean, Sean, yes, there is no access, but does the Embassy have any sources of any kind in Tibet? Do they keep in touch regularly, even, you know, without violence or anything like that, do you know?

MR. MCCORMACK: You have -- I don't know recently, but I know in the early days of this, that you have -- that we did have people calling in to the Embassy from various places. I can't tell you whether they were calling in from Lhasa or elsewhere in China. But naturally, our Embassy has, as part of their job, establishing contacts with members of the society that they're dealing with, in civil society and other places throughout the government to try to provide as good a picture as they possibly can of what's going on in the country at a given point in time. So they're making every effort to do so. I think their abilities to collect information, especially in Lhasa and the surrounding areas, are probably -- are limited. They are limited just because of some of the restrictions on travel to those areas. So they're doing the best they can in order to actively go out as well as to collect any information that may be volunteered coming in.

QUESTION: And the other thing was that you've followed the European press some. It's been in the past few days very, very critical of China. And as you know, the EU foreign ministers are supposed to take up the issue of possibly boycotting the opening ceremony at the Olympics. Did the Secretary tell the Foreign Minister that the United States is not going to support any kind of boycott of the Olympics?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would just reiterate what the President said about the Olympics, that we view this as a significant international sporting event; we are going to treat it as such. And we would also encourage China to make use of the fact that the world is watching the Olympics and this important international event to put its best face forward, not only during the Olympics but in the run-up to as well as after the Olympics.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on this? Yeah.

QUESTION: The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman appeared to rule out talks with the Dalai Lama today, saying that while he appears -- while he says he's not a separatist, his words and deeds show he has never stopped his work to try to split Tibet from the rest of China. Do you have any response to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you've heard what I have had to say about how we view the Dalai Lama. We would continue to urge China to enter into dialogue with him, and you can look back at the transcripts. And I referred to most -- to the President's words about the Dalai Lama, some extended remarks from this past fall, and those still stand.

Anything else on this? Lambros.

QUESTION: On FYROM. Mr. McCormack --

MR. MCCORMACK: Macedonia.

QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, anything to say on tomorrow's meeting in Brussels for the name issue among the Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried, the Foreign Minister of Greece Dora Bakoyannis and the Foreign Minister of FYROM Antonio Milososki?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Dan, the Acting Under Secretary for Political Affairs, is in Brussels. He's going to have some meetings in support of international efforts, specifically the UN, to find a solution to the name issue. We still support the efforts of Ambassador Nimetz. We have at -- from time to time with each side, the Secretary has met with the Greek Foreign Minister, with the Macedonian Foreign Minister, separately, to encourage them to find a solution to this issue that is between them in the context and under the rubric of that UN effort. I think you should view Dan’s meetings with each – each as a part of that continuing effort and in that vein of supporting the UN effort.

QUESTION: One more question. After the involvement of your Ambassador to NATO Victoria Nuland at the Vienna talks and the Acting Secretary for Political Affairs Daniel Fried in the Brussels talks, may we assume that Secretary Rice is going to take the lead for a higher-level meeting between Athens and Skopje before the NATO summit in Bucharest?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I wouldn’t necessarily make that assumption.

QUESTION: Have the Greeks told the U.S. that unless this is resolved to their satisfaction, they wouldn’t let additions to NATO, the three Adriatic states join NATO?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll let the Greeks speak for themselves on that.

QUESTION: But is that a concern of the State Department?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, NATO is a consensus organization. The Greeks have expressed their concern over this issue. We’d certainly like to see it resolved.

QUESTION: I know you’re looking for comity, but – c-o-m-i-t-y – there’s enough comedy as it is. (Laughter.) But what is – why are you so – pressing so hard to get the name issue resolved right now?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, to me, if for no other reason, Barry, it has been out there for long enough. It’s time to find a resolution to the issue. And there’s no reason that these two states, with reasonable, elected, democratic leadership, can’t find a reasonable solution to the issue. We understand it’s emotional. We understand it’s hard. But they can find a solution.

Now, let’s go to Kirit and then we’ll come to you.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information about – I think Treasury’s putting out something new on Iranian banks? I think that maybe this morning – I didn’t see much about it, but this is, I think, the third thing that you’ve – the Administration has done with regard to Iran this week. Is this all connected, or can you tell us what’s up?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it’s just – it’s part of our – you should view this as part of a continuum of our efforts to ensure that Iran is not able to use international trading systems, international financial institutions for the purposes of terrorism or furthering their illicit – any illicit efforts or their nuclear program, their enrichment-related nuclear program. So it’s all part of – all part of a continuum. I think I’ll have a statement out later this afternoon, but it is essentially a summary of some of the things that we’ve done over the past week in this regard.

QUESTION: Is it --

MR. MCCORMACK: All of which are known in public, but it’s just putting it in one place, these efforts.

QUESTION: Okay. So – but the statement is something new, or is it just a summary of it?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it’s just a summary. You should view it as a summary of the various efforts that we have taken, I think all of which are known in public already.


QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that (inaudible)?


QUESTION: But why, after the UN sanctions and the efforts by the Treasury Department and the joint statements by Secretaries Rice and Paulson, is it again necessary to come out and claim that the Iranians are disguising their proliferation and terrorism activities? Are some U.S. banks not listening to you?

MR. MCCORMACK: You can talk to Treasury. I don’t believe so. I think that the international financial system and, in particular, U.S. financial institutions take this quite – take these – not only the restrictions, but the admonitions quite seriously. We’ve had a very good response from the international financial system. This is just – this is a continuation of our two-track diplomacy which you have seen for quite some time. It’s – I just think there’s an interest whenever we take actions in order to keep up the pressure, just as there is an interest whenever we talk about efforts to encourage the Iranians to engage the rest of the international community. So it's just part of trying to keep you and publics informed on what we are doing.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this issue?


QUESTION: Sean, as you know, UN members are required to submit reports about how they're complying with the sanctions against Iran.


QUESTION: The UN said the other day that only half of the member states have done so, even though those reports were due.

MR. MCCORMACK: Only half have submitted the reports?

QUESTION: Have submitted, yes. Are you aware of your mission doing something to encourage and make sure that the rest of them submit that, or do you just leave this to the UN to deal with?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Nicholas. I don't know, off the top of my head. It's a good question, though.


QUESTION: Sean, just to follow up on something that came up this morning regarding the treatment of Palestinian Americans on entry and exit from Israel as a transit point to the West Bank and Gaza.


QUESTION: One, is the Secretary inclined to meet with Mr. -- Dr. Zogby or other members of the Arab American Institute? Is any date set on that?

Two, why did the State Department feel that it was necessary to place this guidance, or this -- those paragraphs in the Travel Warning, you know, now? What was the reason? I mean, this is a longstanding problem. What was the reason for that?

And lastly, what has the Administration done to try to address the longstanding concern of Arab American groups that they are treated in a discriminatory fashion vis-à-vis other American citizens not of Arab descent?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, with respect to the letter from Jim Zogby and his group, I think we've just received it. And it requested a meeting prior to May 9th. We'll take a look at it. I don't think we've generated a response yet. It's understandable; we've been doing quite a bit of travel. So we'll take a look at it.

As for the Travel Warning and the inclusion of the paragraph, that is handled in a completely separate channel, separate from the public affairs apparatus, and they make their decisions based on the facts and their assessment of what they need to do in order to keep the American public -- publics and American citizens informed of the situation on the ground in various locations, whether it's Israel or elsewhere around the world.

As for this issue, it's a continuing issue. It's a continuing problem. Our view, as expressed by Secretary Rice, former Under Secretary Burns, former Assistant Secretary Maura Harty, our Ambassador, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs recently and a variety of other people to the Israeli Government, is that an American citizen is an American citizen is an American citizen. There are no second classes. There's no distinction there. You have a blue American passport, you should be treated like an American citizen, as they would be anywhere around the world, according to the rules that have been laid out for all American citizens for entering into a country. So it is our very clear view. We reiterated it. We will continue to reiterate it as long as there is a problem -- that there is no distinction and there should be distinction, that everybody should be treated equally.

QUESTION: One more follow-up. I had asked this morning if you would check when was the last time Secretary Rice had raised this matter with the Israeli Government and with whom had she raised it, whether it was Foreign Minister Livni or the Justice Minister.

MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't have a chance to track that down. I know that she has. I know

-- I'm positive that she has raised it at the very senior-most levels of the Israeli Government. I'll have to see if I can track it down.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll see if I can track it down for you. Yeah, I know. But other senior State Department officials have also raised it at senior levels of the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: And at the Secretary's, too. Sure, yeah.


QUESTION: Usama bin Laden?


QUESTION: Did you have a chance to take a look at the message and what's your reaction to --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have -- I don't have a full assessment for you. I guess there is an audiotape that is out, and there's talk also of videotape. I'm not sure that we have received all of that. Without having read through the entire message, however, I think it is safe to assume that the contents of the message from Usama bin Laden are filled with hate and encouragement of -- encouraging people to murder innocents in the name of a perverted and depraved cause. You know, again, I don't know that you really need to read the whole thing to understand that that's what it says.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) that it is bona fide, that it is actually his voice?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not -- I don't know that we have.


MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know that we have.

QUESTION: Well, I didn't hear Arshad's question. What --

MR. MCCORMACK: That we have concluded that it's actually bin Laden's voice on the tape.

QUESTION: Have you concluded --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, have we concluded that. And I don't know. I don't know. You can check with the intelligence community.

QUESTION: Did you say we have or haven't?

QUESTION: He says he doesn't know.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Check with the intelligence community.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right, thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:02 p.m.)

DPB # 51

Released on March 20, 2008

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