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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 16, 2009



Secretary Rice’s Phone Calls / Israeli Defense Minister Barak, Israeli Foreign Minister Livni, Australian Foreign Minister Smith, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Meridor, Foreign Minister Kouchner, UK Foreign Secretary Miliband, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, Secretary General Ban, Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos, Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit.
Hamas Has Been Damaged / Political Solution / Building up Security Capabilities of the Palestinian People / Humanitarian Situation in Gaza is Dire


U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker / Presidential Medal of Freedom / Accepting Award on Behalf of All Foreign Service Officers
Assistant Secretary McCormack Farewell / Honor to Represent


MOU / General Framework / United States Committing Resources and Technology / Border Crossing Agreement / 2005 Movement and Access Agreement / Secretary Rice Consulted with Secretary-designate Clinton, General Jones and President-elect / Security Guarantees / Consulting with Egyptians and other Interested Regional Actors / Making Sure Smuggling and Resupply of Hamas Does Not Happen / Foreign Minister Livni to Talk with European Countries / Mubarak Initiative / Call for a Donors Conference / Rebuild Gaza / Help Build up Responsible Institutions


10:27 a.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: The Secretary of State is always a hard act to follow. Let me just start off with a couple notes for you at the top of the briefing, then we can get into whatever remaining questions you have. The Secretary referenced some – the phone calls that she had yesterday. Just let me run down this list for you: Israeli Defense Minister Barak; Israeli Foreign Minister Livni three times; Australian Foreign Minister Smith; the Israeli Ambassador here in the United States, Ambassador Meridor; French Foreign Minister Kouchner; UK Foreign Secretary Miliband; Defense Minister Barak again; Israeli Prime Minister Olmert twice; Secretary General Ban; Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos; and Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit. So she was quite busy working the phones yesterday, and I think today we’re going to see some of the fruits of all of those efforts with the signing of this MOU which the Secretary has talked about.

I wanted to pass on one other thing from yesterday. I was talking to Ryan Crocker after the ceremony in which he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And he wanted me to pass along to everybody, and I’ll say it through you to everybody else in the State Department and the Foreign Service – he wanted to make it clear that not only was he accepting that award personally and he was very grateful to the President for receiving the award, but he was accepting that award on behalf of all Foreign Service officers and on behalf of the dedication and professionalism and sacrifice that they make on a daily basis.

And with that, we can take your questions.

QUESTION: Can you be a little bit more specific about what the MOU has in it in terms of --

MR. MCCORMACK: What we’ll try to do – let’s get it signed first. Then I’ll try to, to the best that I – the best of my ability, actually get it out to you. It really is – it’s about two and a half pages long. It’s, I would say, a – on paper, a very general framework that is underpinned by a number of different understandings. And important among those is the fact that the United States is going to commit the resources, wherewithal, and technology necessary in order to fulfill our part of the bargain. And the essential element of this is to inhibit the ability of Hamas to rearm so, as the Secretary said, you’re not back in the same situation six months from now.

Now, the border crossing agreement that – again, that is a separate, standalone piece of this. And that, we would expect, would flow from the existing 2005 Movement and Access Agreement which the Secretary negotiated.

QUESTION: Was there any consultation with the incoming team about this agreement and what it commits the United States to do?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yes, all along the way here. I know that within the past several days, obviously, the Secretary consulted with Senator Clinton, Secretary-designate Clinton. They had a lunch yesterday. And by the way, we released a photo from that lunch, or just after that lunch, this morning for you all.

She, I know, has spoken with General Jones, who is the incoming National Security Advisor. She also spoke with the President-elect, I know, yesterday morning. So – and Steve Hadley --

QUESTION: About this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah – yes, just giving a state of play. So we have been at the top levels of the incoming administration, consulting. We’ve also had those consultations ongoing at other levels, as well -- including Steve Hadley to his counterpart, his incoming counterpart.

QUESTION: I realize that you don’t want to speak for the next administration, but you’re going ahead and signing this thing today, and you’re going to be out of office in three days. So it is safe to assume that they didn’t say, bah, hold on, don’t do this, wait?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Well, it is an MOU that is – that commits the United States.

QUESTION: It’s binding.

MR. MCCORMACK: It commits the United States. And I’ll let them speak for themselves, but I think it’s safe to assume that we wouldn’t have moved forward if we hadn’t done some careful consultations prior to signing this with the incoming folks.

QUESTION: Why? I thought you said there was, you know, that this office – this Administration is in office till January 20th. So do you really need --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. And this agreement extends off and beyond January 20th, so we thought it not only courteous, but wise --

QUESTION: There are a lot of agreements that you signed.

MR. MCCORMACK: Not only courteous, but wise to consult. Well, look, this requires a specific – a commitment of assets, if you will. And you know, whereas, the – any other agreements, of course, are equally binding, but they don’t necessarily commit to an immediate supply of assets on behalf of the United States.

QUESTION: Well, what kind of assets, number one, are you talking about? Could you be a bit more specific? Are these – is this the PSI tool bag or whatever? And secondly, what kind of security guarantee specifically has the United States sort of promised?

MR. MCCORMACK: Security guarantee in what regard?

QUESTION: I think that there were some security guarantees included within this that you were guaranteeing Israel.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there’s always – we have – this Administration, certainly, on behalf of the United States, has made it very clear our commitment to Israel’s security on a number of different occasions, in a number of different ways. And it’s safe to assume that that continues. And I would expect the incoming administration to recommit itself to those similar guarantees. As a matter of fact, I think they have already. They’ve made those political statements.

In terms of the assets, it will be what is required. Certainly, there’s an element of this making sure that their – Hamas is not able to be resupplied via sea, land, or air, so there are a variety of different configurations of assets.

QUESTION: So what is it? Is it like AWACs? Is it infrared stuff*?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, there will be a specific – folks who are expert in these things and actually control those assets will take a look at the mission and take a look at what is required, and they will devote the assets necessary to fulfill the mission. There is also an aspect to this of technical expertise. There’s been a lot of discussion devoted to the idea of making sure that they aren’t able to be resupplied via land in any way. We have some expertise in that regard. We have also – we’ve been on the ground there, so we understand the terrain a little bit. And I expect those kinds of things would continue. Obviously, Egypt will have a large role to play in this as well. And we’re closely consulting with the Egyptians, as well as other interested regional actors.

QUESTION: And how much is all this going to cost and do you have the funding for it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it wouldn’t be legal to commit without the funding, and I’m sure we will. And I can’t give you a pricetag on it.

QUESTION: But is this hundreds of millions of dollars?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can’t. I – Sue, I just don’t have an estimate for you.

Yeah, Farah.

QUESTION: Are these assets that Israel has asked for in the past? I mean, we’ve been knowing for years about the problem of smuggling. So is this the – why is this -- have we given some assets in the past, but now there’s a commitment of more? Have they asked for this in the past, but we haven’t given it?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. It’s not a – there are a lot of different moving parts to this problem. And we have been engaged on this problem for a while. I think all of you understand that we sent a team to Egypt – Army Corps of Engineers – to look specifically at tunnels. There are other aspects to this: the air aspect, the sea aspect to this. And it just requires a lot of different moving parts and a lot of different interested actors in the region to come together, be in sync on the – and be committed to a course of action. But we think we have the beginnings of that. We believe that, as the Secretary indicated, this is an enabling condition to get to a cease-fire. And we hope to see that in the very near future. And I think we have a commitment from interested parties in the region to bring the assets and the willpower to bear to address the problems that are there.

QUESTION: I guess I’m just trying to figure out what’s changed today, because is this just an agreement that the Israelis can then take to their people and say, look, now something is different? Because in the past, it seems like we have been engaged on this. And I find it hard to imagine that if the Israelis have asked us to stop smuggling, that we haven’t provided the assets necessary. So what is this – what’s the real significance?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I mean – well, first of all, we’re not responsible for, you know, smuggling happening or not. We are able to participate in robust ways to assist others as well in making sure that smuggling, resupply of Hamas, doesn’t take place. Look, very often it is the case in foreign policy where you have a problem, it’s known; sometimes it takes some time to get to a solution. We certainly have had the will to try to deal with this for quite some time. We obviously have the assets. We are going to make sure that the assets are at the disposal of those who need them to solve the problem.


QUESTION: Can you tell us a bit more about the international aspects of this agreement, I mean, what the U.S. will be doing and what the Israelis will be doing to encourage other countries, Europeans, those in the region, to do similar things?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ll let the Israelis speak for themselves. But the Secretary indicated that Foreign Minister Livni is going to be touch with some of the European countries, specifically France and England, to try to conclude similar types of agreement. Because this is – you know, it’s going to be a problem that requires ongoing vigilance, it’s going to require a variety of different assets. And perhaps others can help bring to bear their assets as well as their political support for the agreement. We fully expect that to happen.

This has been something that we’ve been working on quietly for quite some time. I think, safe to say, it goes back to the period when we were up in New York. And so as the Secretary indicated, it’s meant to support the ongoing diplomatic efforts – the Mubarak initiative. In a sense, also it supports the UN Security Council resolution as well.

So to get back to a little bit of what Farah was asking about, the idea here is to actually change the reality on the ground. We can sign all the agreements we want, you know, whether it’s the UN or elsewhere, but you need to bring the assets to bear in order to solve the problem, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

QUESTION: So you expect this could be a template for other bilateral agreements that Israel would sign with –

MR. MCCORMACK: Perhaps. I mean, they’re going to have to work those out bilaterally. But you know, it can serve as a model, certainly.


QUESTION: Just to understand a bit clearer, this is essentially technical assistance and a little bit of information sharing?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there’s information assistance -- information sharing, technical assistance, and, I would expect, also use of various assets, as I said, to prevent any sort of resupply from air or sea.

QUESTOIN: And just a separate question, if I may. She – the Secretary talked about funding some of Gaza’s needs after the conflict. And she talked about once it had come out of the dark, I think, of Hamas’s reign there. Is she anticipating in any way that Hamas will be absent from power after this is concluded? It was interesting that she was talking about Hamas’s reign in the past tense.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we shall see. One thing we know for certain and that we have learned through our experience in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan as elsewhere, is there is not just a military solution to problems such as fighting terror. You also have to bring to bear building up infrastructure, building up capabilities, bringing resources to bear to help the population so that they can make a different kind of political decision. Because ultimately, you’re not going to solve this until you have a political resolution. Security is an element, but you’re not going to get to a real solution until you have a political solution.

So she was referring to the efforts of the Czech Government, who holds the presidency of the EU for the first six months of this year. They have called for a donors conference. So it’s going to be critically important for the international system to follow up and to help rebuild Gaza, help build up responsible institutions. And as for Hamas, we shall see what their future is.


QUESTION: It’s not actually a follow-up to this particular point. I wanted to ask you about perception. As we seem to be entering the final phase of the fighting, many of Israel’s supporters may argue that what the Israelis have achieved is nothing short of a victory. Many of Israel’s critics may say that what Israelis have actually achieved is, perhaps, a Pyrrhic victory, if not a moral defeat, given the toll among civilians in Gaza. How do you perceive it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it – well, I can’t offer you an assessment of to what extent Hamas has been damaged. I think it’s safe to say they have been damaged. But I would just refer back to the point that I made in answer to Daniel’s question, and that is that the United States has stated quite clearly that the solution to the conflict and differences between the Israelis and Palestinians lies in a political solution. Certainly, Israel has a right to defend itself. Nobody is disputing that fact. But in doing so, it also has to keep in mind the effects of its actions on getting to what is the real solution, and that is a political solution.

QUESTION: Well, what do you think –

MR. MCCORMACK: Various elements of that political – supporting that political solution also include building up institutions, such as we’re doing in the West Bank; building up the security capabilities of the Palestinian people, responsible security forces that report to an elected government, such as we have in the West Bank; helping provide opportunities and resources for the Palestinian people so that they can have a better life, so that they can have the same sort of dreams and aspirations that we have in this country, that they have in Israel and other countries around the world. That’s the model.

So as for, you know – as for how badly Hamas has been damaged, I can’t offer –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: I can’t offer that.

QUESTION: In 2006, Hezbollah in Lebanon, they got militarily battered.


QUESTION: Politically, they came out strong.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would –

QUESTION: We can have a rerun of that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well again, I’m not sure that’s, you know – that that’s necessarily true. You have Hamas, which is – does not rule – and Hezbollah, which does not rule in southern Lebanon. Certainly, they have a presence there, but the Lebanese military is deployed in southern Lebanon now. Nasrallah afterwards had to come out and admit that it was a mistake and he didn’t realize they were going to take the beating that they took. If he had realized that, he wouldn’t have launched – done what he did.

You have now Syria and Lebanon with diplomatic relations. You have an elected Lebanese Government that is – that is, on a daily basis, expanding its control throughout Lebanon. So –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: -- throughout Lebanon.

So while no solution is perfect -- 1701 isn’t perfect, the implementation of 1701 hasn’t been perfect and there is still more to do there -- it is a step forward along the way. It is certainly not the status quo ante, and the status quo today is better than the status quo ante.

QUESTION: Sean, can I just follow up on that? You said -- in the beginning of that, you said that you always tell Israel to keep in mind how its actions are going to have an effect on its long-term goal, which is a political solution. How do you think that this particular military campaign – what effect is it going to have on the long-term goal, which is a political solution?

MR. MCCROMACK: You know, we’re –

QUESTION: Don’t you think that the Annapolis process is set back in a major way, if not on halt for a long time to come?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I – no, that is not at all a foregone conclusion. I think a lot depends – of course, a lot depends on how the story – you know, the end of the story depends a lot on what happens after today, getting to a cease-fire, getting to a donors conference, getting to reconstruction of Gaza, getting to a political solution so that the Palestinian people can finally decide what course they want to go on. So I don’t know what the end of the story is going to be. I know –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: I know that we have tried to put in place the building blocks that will help get you to that point.

QUESTION: Let me just (inaudible) –


QUESTION: The – what is – how concerned are you about the extent to which governments like the government of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Mahmoud Abbas may have isolated themselves or not within their national jurisdiction as a result of the fighting in Gaza?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think they have put themselves on the side of finding a solution, a peaceful solution for a more stable Middle East. I would take note of the fact there is a meeting in Qatar today which the attendees, I think, are, you know, the Qataris, the Syrians, Hamas, Hezbollah, and various other Palestinian rejectionist groups. States like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others who are interested in a more peaceful, stable Middle East and reaching a political solution aren’t there. I think that’s – that is actually a stark contrast and puts in high relief the divisions that are in the Middle East.

We will put ourselves – this Administration has put itself on the side of working with those who are interested in a different kind of Middle East.


QUESTION: Two questions. One is, when you talk about assets, are you talking about people? Will there be Americans on the ground, sort of –

MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn’t expect –

QUESTION: Can you give us a sense of –

MR. MCCORMACK: -- in Egypt or Gaza? No. No.



QUESTION: And are you talking about providing these assets to Egypt?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Egyptians will bear responsibility, certainly, for this. And we’re going to do what we can to give them what they need to do the job --

QUESTION: So it’s not that Israel would be – we would be giving these things to Israel? We’d be giving them to Egypt in order to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, implementation of this agreement is going to move forward, and the specifics of how it is implemented will be detailed into the future.


MR. MCCORMACK: I think we have to move along here, as we have a signing ceremony coming up, and I just want to say a few words at the end of the briefing, too.


QUESTION: Does the U.S. see the reconstruction effort as a way to reintroduce the Palestinian Authority into Gaza? I mean, already you’re talking about the 2005 --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- Movement and Access Agreement --

QUESTION: -- as a way to control the borders. But I assume the aid – is the hope that the aid and the reconstruction will be done through the PA inside Gaza?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that will largely be determined by the international community and the donors themselves. You know, there are a variety of different channels. You have the UN, you have NGOs that are on the ground there. As you mentioned, the 2005 Movement and Access Agreement – it does have a Palestinian affairs aspect to it. And again, so that will be implemented down the road.

QUESTION: Last question on this topic?


QUESTION: Just on the day-to-day running of Gaza after this, I mean, there seem to be three possibilities: one, Hamas stays in power; two, Fatah’s rule is reinstituted on the backs of Israeli tanks – not necessarily a good thing; or, three, anarchy. I mean, is – are people afraid of – I mean, is there a fourth possibility that I’m not seeing, or is – are people not worried about the idea that Gaza – that at least somebody up until this point controlled Gaza? Is there not the fear that maybe anarchy would --

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire. But let’s not fool ourselves that Gaza was Xanadu before this happened. Hamas was failing. Hamas was failing to provide for the Palestinian people. There was already a dire humanitarian circumstance there.

So yes, it is an issue for the international system: What happens next in Gaza? And you know, part – there are a variety of different pieces that will answer that call. The international community, interested regional parties, certainly Israel has a role to play with that in terms of the crossings. The United States, I’m sure, will have a role to play in that.

QUESTION: Will the Palestinians have a say in how --

MR. MCCORMACK: Of course they will. Ultimately, they are the ones with the say.


MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, just let me --

QUESTION: Let me just say something. With all this last-minute flurry of activity, I wasn’t able to prepare what I wanted – the proper roast for you to send you off into your next career…

MR. MCCORMACK: You’re not going to mention embarrassing quotes from a previous transcript, are you? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No. I had planned on it, but you guys, in your last-minute diplomacy, thwarted that effort. Anyway, just I wanted to say on behalf of the Correspondents Association, Sean, thank you. It’s been a pleasure, even if we haven’t always liked the answers that you’ve given us. You’ve been a true professional, and thank you for your service. Good luck.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you, Matt. Look, I don’t want to keep it long, because if I stay up here too long I’m just going to crack up. It is just an honor of a lifetime to represent this great country in front of all of you, to represent this institution, the State Department, in* all its various elements – the Foreign Service, Civil Service. It’s been a great honor to represent this Bureau, Public Affairs. We couldn't have done all the things that we have done without them, without the entire effort of the Public Affairs Bureau. And our mission was to try to better inform publics through you as well as other ways, and that has always been our mission.

In that sense, I view our roles as two sides of the same coin: You try to hold the government to account, and that is terribly important; we try to inform publics along the way as best we can, and that has always been our intention. And if there’s anything I’ve learned standing up here at the podium, it is that a free press is absolutely critical to the functioning of any healthy democracy. I think the Secretary spoke quite eloquently about it. But it was an unexpected lesson. Standing up here, that is something I feel very deeply, and I just want to say thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Applause.)

(The briefing was concluded at 10:50 a.m.)

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