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Daily Press Briefing

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
July 17, 2008


Secretary’s Upcoming Travel and Meetings
Secretary’s Upcoming Meeting with Foreign Minister of Abu Dhabi
Under Secretary Burns’ Communications with Secretary Rice / Trip Participation


Under Secretary Burns’ Travel / Meeting on Saturday
U.S. Has Interest in Reaching out to the Iranian People
U.S. Time, Energy, Resources Devoted to Connecting with Iranian People
Media Reports about U.S. Interests Section in Iranian


Correspondence Between Prime Ministers Gruevski and Karamanlis


Readout of Secretary’s Meeting with Foreign Minister Livni and Abu Alaa


12:30 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I have one trip announcement for you, and we’ll put out the full text after the briefing here. But the Secretary will be leaving Sunday for a trip to Southeast Asia via Abu Dhabi. She will stop in Abu Dhabi, have some meetings there on her way to Singapore for the ASEAN Regional Forum. She will then travel to Perth, Australia, on to Auckland, New Zealand, and then Apia, Samoa, and finally back home here to Washington, D.C. We’ll have the full text of the trip announcement out there -- out for you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Apia, Samoa. With that, I’ll be happy to take your questions.


QUESTION: Yeah, do you have any details on who she’s going to be meeting in Abu Dhabi? Is she going to be seeing any senior U.S. officials who may have finished other meetings elsewhere?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think she will probably run into Bill Burns there. I would expect that he will come by. She’ll have some bilateral meetings with the leadership in Abu Dhabi as well, and there might be some other of her counterparts from the region that are there as well for some informal discussions. But again, we’ll put out the announcement for you.

QUESTION: And what’s the main reason, though, for her stop in Abu Dhabi? Is it to see Abu Dhabi’s leader because she missed the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well – exactly. The leader was – the leader of Abu Dhabi was here recently to visit with the President up at Camp David. Secretary Rice missed that visit because she was on travel herself, so this is an opportunity to follow up on those meetings, and also to have some useful consultations on her way to scheduled meetings in Singapore.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) Gulf Cooperation Council countries? Not a full meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no. Again, there perhaps could be some informal discussions with some of her other counterparts from the region. But we’ll fill you in on the details. This is – the Foreign Minister of Abu Dhabi has very graciously agreed to host her there for this stopover, and I think he might be organizing an informal discussion for her. So we’ll – as the details become more firm, we’ll be able to provide you some more information.

QUESTION: Would you say Foreign Minister Zebari could join these talks and discuss Iraq and --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t expect that will be the case.

QUESTION: So in terms of Bill Burns, is he flying from Geneva to see Secretary Rice in Abu Dhabi with the purpose of briefing her on the talks with the Iranians?

MR. MCCORMACK: They’ll have an opportunity, obviously, to talk via telephone prior to his seeing her there.  But it will be an opportunity for him to brief her in person as well as to be able to provide his impressions of what the P-5+1 heard from the Iranians to others who may be in some informal discussions there.

QUESTION: And then is he going to be carrying on with the Secretary for her Asia trip or --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, he won’t. No, he will be coming home, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So where is he going after that? Is he going back to somewhere else to see the Iranians? It depends on what happens, I suppose.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I would expect he’ll be back in Washington after his – after he sees the Secretary.

QUESTION: And then just one more thing. In Apia – the New Zealand Foreign Minister is accompanying the Secretary to Apia, is that right, for a meeting with Pacific foreign ministers? Is that what’s happening?

MR. MCCORMACK: Correct, correct. I don’t know if Foreign Minister Peters will be flying with her, but he will be there. I haven’t checked out the logistics, honestly, Sue, to see who will be traveling with whom, but certainly, the Secretary would be very pleased to be at the meeting with Foreign Minister Peters.

QUESTION: And then the Australian is joining them too, right? It’s a little – it’s the three – a threesome going off to Apia, is that right?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there will be a number of foreign ministers there. We will, as we get closer to the meeting, probably have a full slate that we can provide you.

QUESTION: And what --

QUESTION: The answer is yes to a briefing – to Burns briefing her on that first Rice stop?

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s correct. But she’s --

QUESTION: Because not – but there is a way to be in touch? It won’t be the first words she’ll have, will it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Correct. Yeah, that’s what I was talking about.


MR. MCCORMACK: I said that he will talk to her via telephone.

QUESTION: Sure. Could I --


QUESTION: The business of negotiate, not negotiate, speak, don’t speak, be courteous, not be courteous; how does the notion of an interests section figure in this? That’s not a matter of nuclear negotiations.


QUESTION: It stands apart. And it’s very much, apparently, a project that Mr. Burns is interested in. Is he at liberty to – assuming you come along on this – you haven’t announced a decision yet – but number one, is there a decision? And number two, is he free to speak to the Iranians at that get-together in Geneva about the notion of an interests section?

MR. MCCORMACK: There’s --

QUESTION: Is that exempt from the no negotiate --

MR. MCCORMACK: There’s not going to be any discussion of that at this meeting on Saturday. And I’ve seen the news reports, Barry. I think there have been columns about it, there have been op-eds about it. I think there was a news report just today in the Guardian newspaper about this idea of a U.S. interests section in Tehran. And the Secretary has addressed this. She talked about it, I think, three weeks, a month or so ago. And we’re not going to discuss internal deliberations of the U.S. Government. 

But it is quite apparent from our efforts over the past several years that we have a real interest in reaching out to the Iranian people. And we’re doing that in a lot of different ways. We have opened up a session in Dubai that is devoted solely to watching Iran, reporting back to the Department on Iran what they see there from the Gulf. It’s a little bit like what we did with the Soviet Union prior to a diplomatic presence in the Soviet Union. I’m not trying to imply any parallels there beyond that, in terms of follow-on actions. 

We have had various exchanges. We have made offers of disaster assistance teams. We’ve had an Iranian disaster assistance team visit here. We’ve had Iranian artists here. And very interestingly, I actually just noticed the other day that the Iranian Olympic team is going to be coming to the United States at the invitation of the NBA to play in the NBA summer leagues. 

QUESTION: Yeah, I understand that. 

MR. MCCORMACK: And so these are the kinds of exchanges that we want to foster. You know, in addition to that, we have increased our capabilities here --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- at the State Department to deal with Iran issues for -- you know, I’ll give you one example. When I came in the Foreign Service back in 1995, I studied Farsi. They taught me Farsi. I was one of two people that year that they taught Farsi to. This year, I think we’re teaching upwards of 10 people Farsi, so we’re building up our capabilities. We’ve established an Iran office here in the State Department. Strangely enough, during all this time prior to Secretary Rice’s tenure, there wasn’t an Iran office in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. So we are devoting time, resources and energy to issues related to Iran. 

We are also devoting time, resources and energy to trying to connect directly with the Iranian people. It’s a great people, it’s a great civilization, and by a lot of reports that you hear, the Iranian people want contact with Americans. Unfortunately, they have a government that has taken them farther and farther away from that goal, in terms of the world stage. We only hope that they -- on Saturday, they do make the right choice and agree to the conditions that have been laid out by the Security Council and the P-5+1. 

QUESTION: That’s nuclear. I asked -- my question, had too many parts to it. 


QUESTION: Simply, does the prohibition on him negotiating in Geneva apply to talking to them about an interests section? He mentioned the basketball players before -- at the Senate hearing or House hearing. He did both in one day and it came up at one of them. But do you anticipate him talking to them? Should they broach the subject? Is he at liberty to talk to them about an interests section? 

MR. MCCORMACK:  Barry, I -- at the very beginning, my answer to you is that there’s going to be no discussion with the Iranians in this meeting about an interests section. 

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. 

QUESTION:  One on her trip to Dubai – or Abu Dhabi. Does the Secretary plan to visit the interests -- the --

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s in Dubai.

QUESTION: -- Iran office in Dubai?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’re going to be in Abu Dhabi. 

QUESTION: Okay. She’s not going to Dubai, as well? 


QUESTION: No. Okay. 

QUESTION: Do officialties with Iran hinge on the meeting on Saturday? Or are you really building expectations for official ties sometime over the next few --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not building any expectations here. Look, we want to have contact, people-to-people contact with the Iranian people. That is something we would – we have sought – we’ve devoted a lot of energy to that and with some success. We also reach out to them via other publicly available media as well. In terms of Saturday’s meeting, Saturday’s meeting is to hear the Iranian response to the P-5+1 offer. 

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. 

MR. MCCORMACK: If there’s any drama here at all, it is on that issue: What will the Iranians say in response to the offer?

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Just one more follow-on on it. Can you say whether a decision has been made, one way or the other? Without answering what the decision is –

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right. 

QUESTION: -- (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Kirit, nice try. I’m not going to talk about any internal U.S. Government deliberations. 


QUESTION: Just to complete (inaudible) –

MR. MCCORMACK: Are we getting into flagellum equus mortuus territory?

QUESTION: Yeah. So the Guardian story was very specific in terms of a timeline and said that the U.S. would decide within a month whether to open the interests section. Is – would that timeline be accurate or are you saying that’s wrong? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Refer you back to my earlier answers on matter of U.S. Government internal deliberations.

QUESTION: That’s a little vague. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: On FYROM. Mr. McCormack, the Skopje Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in a letter to the Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis raised the issues of the so-called, “Macedonia ethnicity, language, minority, and property” in northern Greece. Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyianni accused the Skopjen leader that deliberately is trying to undermine the UN process for a solution on the name issue. Any comment?
MR. MCCORMACK: This is a matter between Macedonia and Greece. I understand the correspondence was between those two parties, so I’d refer you to either party for comment about it. From our point of view, we would like to see Macedonia and Greece work out the name issue, which is a completely different topic. I know a lot of people are devoting a lot of time and energy to that topic. We certainly would like to see those negotiations come to a successful completion soon.
QUESTION: Are you planning to intervene between the two sides on this new issue since you want FYROM to become a NATO member as soon as possible?
MR. MCCORMACK: As I understand it, it’s an issue between the two countries, not involving the United States.
QUESTION: Do you have anything about Mr. Hadley’s meetings in Ankara today? After he has left Ankara and Iran Foreign Minister arrived to Turkey. So do you have any -- 
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have any info on it. We’ll try to – I’ll try to dig something up for you and we can post it.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout on the Secretary’s meeting yesterday with the Palestinian negotiator? Saeb Erekat said that there were plans to have a three-way meeting at the end of July, which would include Livni, Foreign Minister Livni, Abu Alaa, and the Secretary?
MR. MCCORMACK: They had a good discussion. They talked about Roadmap obligations. They talked about the political track. I think you’re accustomed to the fact by now that we’re not going to divulge any of the contents of the discussions on the political track.
In terms of a trilateral meeting, look, the Secretary, as evidenced by yesterday’s meeting, continues to have meetings as well as phone calls with both sides. She’s going to keep working these issues with both sides. You’ll see some of the meetings. You won’t see some of the meetings. You’ll hear about some of the phone calls. You won’t hear about others of them. But it is happening and it’s occurring. We’re working both of these aspects of the Roadmap as well as the political negotiations.
You know, trilateral meeting -- she’s going to -- I’m sure, in the coming weeks and months she’s going to have more of them. She’s had some in the past. Right now, I don’t have any particular announcement for you. But I would expect during July and August, she’s going to keep working hard on this issue because the Palestinians and the Israelis are working hard on it. And she’s prepared to devote a lot of time and energy to it, as she has, and as the Israelis and the Palestinians have shown that they’re ready to as well.
QUESTION: But do you think there’ll be something in Washington in July and August? Is that your --
MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll keep you up to date on her schedule. But, look, in July and August, September or October or November, she’s going to keep working these issues.
QUESTION: Can I just briefly return to Iran? My apologies --
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, please, do.
QUESTION: Considering the level of activity -- the Saturday meeting, the exchanges that you elaborated on, the possible discussion, interests section -- is there a quickening or an intensification of U.S. diplomatic efforts to Iran because of the ticking clock, the calendar turning over?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. Look, you know, I expect that probably – there has been and there probably will be even more discussion about this idea of, you know, we’re rushing to get things done because of the Administration and the election and the – and January coming up upon us soon. Look, Secretary Rice’s attitude is she is dedicated to being a good, effective, responsible steward of the national interest and American foreign policy. We are going to – where we see opportunities to advance the national interest via foreign policy, we are going to take them. We are not going to take them, though, just for the sake of the clock.
You know, and I think it’s instructive to reflect back on some comments you’ve heard many times over from Secretary Rice in terms of how she views this particular period in diplomatic and international history. And she talks a lot about her experiences as a Soviet specialist at the end of the Cold War and how she, as Secretary of State, now sees herself as putting in place some of the building blocks and the foundation upon which future administrations can build in dealing with the issues of the – the new threats, issues, and opportunities of the 21st century. So she has a long view of history in terms of her role in it and our role right now in the Bush Administration.

So just to return to where it began, we’re going to take opportunities where we see them, we are going to be responsible stewards of the national interest, and we’re going to continue to act in the national interest as long as we are here in the Bush Administration. Then we will look forward in – as part of our great democratic ritual in this country, and turn over power and responsibility to a new group of people. 

Yeah, Dave.

QUESTION: Sean, also on the interests section, given that Iran has a busy interests section in Washington, is it your assumption that if you decided to go ahead with it, that it would be okay with the Iranians to set up one? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Dave, that is a hypothetical question. As I said before, we’re not going to comment on the – any internal deliberations of the United States Government on this matter of an interests section or any other matter. Concerning the Iranian interests section, I know it’s here, I know that they’re active, but beyond that, I don’t have any other comment.

QUESTION: One on Kosovo? Mr. McCormack, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tomorrow is going to see Hashim Thaci of Kosovo, and I was wondering if you have anything on the agenda. 

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me get that – to that tomorrow morning at the gaggle.

And just one note of personal privilege. Just this morning, we were able – many of us who were friends and colleagues of Tony Snow were able to bid farewell to him and to send our condolences to his family at a beautiful funeral mass. It was really a fitting tribute to a great guy. He was a good and decent man, and he’ll really be missed.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:48 p.m.)

DPB # 127

Released on July 17, 2008

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