Middle East Digest: Jan. 29- Feb. 2, 2007
Bureau of Public Affairs
The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/
From the Daily Press Briefing of Jan. 29 2007:
QUESTION: Do you want to say something about Iran's plans to increase economic and military ties with Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have said from the very beginning that we encourage good, neighborly, transparent, productive, positive relations between Iran and Iraq. We fully expect that. They are neighbors after all. And there's -- after a long period of quite a bit of tension between Iran and Iraq, I think it's only natural that both governments, Iranian and Iraqi, explore how they might improve relations.
Now, that's what everybody including the Iraqis would like to see. Is it the case at the moment that the Iranians are playing a positive role in Iraq? I think there are many, many indications that the Iranian regime is not contributing to the security situation in Iraq. They are not contributing to the stabilization of Iraq and I can't, on the basis of facts, really speak to whether or not they're making any contributions on the reconstruction front. Now, if the Iraqi Government is -- welcomes in the Iranian Government's assistance with reconstruction, then I think that that certainly is their decision to make. But thus far, George, they have not made a positive contribution. All that they have done is contribute to more instability and more death in Iraq.
QUESTION: This is a separate issue, but still Iran. Royal Dutch Shell has signed a preliminary deal along with Spain's Repsol, another company, to develop a major gas field in Iran. Is this something that you would oppose? Non-U.S. companies starting up oil deals in Iran, do you think this goes against UN sanctions and that doesn't affect the oil industry yet, but do you think it breaks the spirit of that agreement?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms -- well, in terms of private commercial entities making business decisions that those decisions are for them to make and in consultation with the boards and their shareholders. Now the U.S. has on the books various laws with respect to investment in the Iranian oil and gas sector, the people who deal with those laws on a daily basis and their application I'm sure will take a look at this particular deal. It's triggered by the size of the deal and did it mention how large this deal is? I imagine it's in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. If so, then there's a -- I think the amount is $30 million or right around there. If there is an investment greater than a certain amount, as specified under U.S. law, then our folks, our lawyers take a look at it and the policymakers take a look at it and see if there's any further steps that we as a government take.
QUESTION: I think it's in the billions of dollars, actually.
MR. MCCORMACK: Then it's likely that it would probably be triggered.
QUESTION: And so what would happen then?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to speculate, Sue. I mean, there's -- you can take a look at the laws on the books and there are various provisions in there if various deals are found to contravene U.S. laws and regulations.
QUESTION: I mean, Shell has operations within the United States, so because Shell is working in the U.S., would that affect how you viewed them?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not even going to begin to try to speculate in terms of the application of the law.
QUESTION: Just go back to your first answer. I'm not sure I fully understand. If Iran is going to contribute to Iraqi reconstruction, would you regard that as a step in the right direction or is it that you think that everything they do is so dodgy and so destabilizing that you don't want them to contribute --
MR. MCCORMACK: It depends on the specifics. Certainly those are -- that would be -- that's a positive sentiment to want to try to contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq. Now, there are -- a lot of times people express positive sentiments but the actual application of that sentiment on the ground isn't so positive, and that certainly is the case with respect to Iran and the security situation. You have the Iranian regime involved in these various networks that are -- that pose a real threat to our troops. You have the Iranians involved, working with various individuals involved in death squads. Again, none of that contributes to the overall security situation in Iraq. It doesn't contribute to Iraq's stabilization.
Now in terms of the reconstruction, we'll see. We would -- I would imagine that a first and minimal step, that any sort of assistance of reconstruction would have to be accepted and welcomed by the Iraqi Government.
QUESTION: This is on a related story on Iran on oil.
QUESTION: Can I stay on that?
QUESTION: Yeah, sure.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: The Iranian Ambassador -- the article in The New York Times says that he was ridiculing some of the evidence that he thinks the U.S. has about Iranian activities inside Iraq. And also I think there's another report that said that the U.S. military would be presenting evidence this week about activities on --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think there's any particular timeline associated with that.
QUESTION: Okay. But you do plan to respond to -- you know, if he's ridiculing the evidence --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't feel any particular need to respond to the Iranian Ambassador in Iraq. But with respect to talking more about what we know of Iranian activities with these IED networks, as well as the various other activities in which they may be involved in Iraq, at some point we will talk in greater depth about it.
Again, I went through it last week, it was a question of combing through all the mountain of classified information that we've managed to accumulate on the topic and all the time we're accumulating more. And looking through that with an eye towards, yes, we want to be able to better inform publics about this: the Iraqi public, our public as well as other publics. At the same time in talking about that, you don't want to harm your ability to conduct -- collect more information on these topics from the same kinds of sources and methods. So you always have that balance. It is our intention to talk about these things in greater detail in public. I can't give you a particular timeline on it. I wouldn't point you to a particular date at this point.
QUESTION: Do you fear though that the U.S. suffers a little bit of a credibility problem? Because in the build up to the Iraq war you presented intelligence relating to weapons of mass destruction, nothing was ever found. Why should people believe you this time on Iran, especially in the climate of escalating tensions with Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: The two are completely different topics, Sue. Here you have a case, and it's been publicly talked about by the British Government long before we ever mentioned this, the fact that the Iranian regime was engaged in these kind of networks that were -- just so everybody's clear -- it's their IEDs improved -- improvised explosive devices, sadly it's a term that we've all become far too familiar with.
What these -- what the Iranian networks do, or the Iranian-sponsored or these networks in which they participate, is they build these devices which are much more lethal. Very simply, as it's been described in the press, they're shaped in such a way that they are able to, with much greater effectiveness, penetrate armor and therefore, are much more lethal to multinational forces, British forces, our forces -- you know, other international forces that may be in Iraq.
So long before we ever talked about this, this is something that the British Government expressed a great deal of concern about. We obviously supported them in their concern. That was, I think, a year ago or so. And again, as we are able to collect information and to make it available to the publics, we will do so. But we're going to do it in such a way that we don't endanger our ability to collect more of that kind of information, because the bottom line here is that we want to take steps to protect our troops.
Regardless of the state of public presentation of the information, we're going to take steps to make sure that our troops are protected as best they can be protected. And one of the threats that they face are these particular devices which are built by these networks, so we're going to confront them. We're going to confront them in Iraq. And as the President said, we are quite determined to do that.
QUESTION: So do you anticipate the Secretary might go to the UN, for example, and present this or would it be --
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: The Saudi oil minister, in recent days, has said publicly that Saudi Arabia wants to maintain "moderate oil prices."
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: And one of the discussions has been that this could have a negative effect on Iran, who is using the oil market to further its negative agenda in the region. Is this move to keep oil prices down something that the U.S. supports? The U.S. has been very supportive of Saudi oil policy in the past.
MR. MCCORMACK: You can talk to the Saudis about how they view the oil markets and the markets. The markets are the ones who set the prices. I'm not going to jump into commenting on commodity markets, thank you very much, Elise.
QUESTION: But just one more. I mean, certainly, Iran has used high oil prices to its own advantage. And do you think a lower oil price could put the squeeze on the Iranian economy that you're seeking to do through other types of measures such as financial measures, banks and so forth?
MR. MCCORMACK: You'll have to talk to the Iranian Ministry of Finance about what sort of squeeze lower oil prices will put on their spending. Everybody knows that they derive the great bulk of their international income from oil and gas related sales. But beyond that, you can talk to the Iranians about what sort of effect the price of oil and gas has on their economy.
QUESTION: Sean, what is your understanding of the proposal from Mohamed ElBaradei to Iran concerning --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think we've talked much to him about it. I know he gave a speech, gave some remarks at Davos about it. I'm sure we'll be in touch with him or his staff to get a better idea of exactly what it is that he's outlined. As I understand it, he has talked about the Iranians' meeting what the IAEA and the UN Security Council have asked them to do, and that is to suspend their enrichment and reprocessing related activities, and then that there would be some coincident or some related suspension of action in the Security Council.
Now, previously, prior to the passage of a Security Council resolution with sanctions on it, there was some idea that we were going to give the Iranians some opportunity, some window in which if they suspended their enrichment and reprocessing related activities then there would be a suspension of activity within the Security Council to seek another resolution. At that point we were between resolutions; one had already been passed calling on them to take certain steps, and then at that point there was contemplation and discussion of the resolution that we have right now that we've already passed.
We have shifted into a qualitatively different situation now where you have in place a Chapter 7 resolution which is binding upon all member-states that calls upon them to impose certain types of sanctions on the Iranian regime. Now, only one of the requirements in that Security Council resolution is for Iran to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing related activities. You can go through -- I don't have it in front of me, but you can go through it and there are several other requirements that are -- that the Iranian regime needs to meet in order for the Security Council to consider lifting any of the sanctions involved in there.
So while we have not had an opportunity to discuss what it is that Mr. ElBaradei had in mind with him or his staff, I would just make as a preliminary comment that you are in a different kind of -- a qualitatively different situation than when this idea had previously arisen back -- I think it was back in the Fall time, back in September.
QUESTION: Do you know if legally there'd be a way to -- because his wording was not "lift the sanctions," it would be "suspend the sanctions." Now, is there some difference? Is there some decision that could be made which is less involved and --
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I couldn't even at this point begin to comment on that, David. You know, again, you have a resolution in place, Chapter 7 binding on all states. I couldn't even begin to tell you the ins and outs of the requirements short of the Iranians meeting the requirements, the requirements that you have to meet or the Security Council would have to take a look at in order to change that finding, change that resolution.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Anything else on Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll get back to you.
QUESTION: The State Department report to Congress about use of cluster bombs by Israel and Lebanon, could you tell us -- you were quoted this morning saying on the wires there likely were violations.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, let me -- we'll back up, give you the long form explanation here. We can answer questions about it. Don't believe everything you read in the wires. (Laughter.) Just kidding. Just kidding, guys. Wanted to make sure you guys were still awake up front here.
Under the Arms Export Control Act there's language in there that says that if a country has -- likely has violated the terms of its agreements with the United States, then you -- then that triggers a report to the Congress. Now, the question then becomes what kind of agreements are you talking about. Well, anytime throughout the licensing process of selling armaments and weapons to foreign countries, the United States typically will negotiate along with the licenses various end use agreements and in some cases agreements that specify under what kinds of conditions those armaments and munitions can be used.
In the case of cluster munitions with Israel, we have in place one of those such agreements. And so the question then arises, which the Israelis themselves are investigating right now, as to in what way the munitions were employed and in the manner of their use, did that in some way contravene the agreement between the United States and Israel. So after looking into the matter in the wake of the Hezbollah-Israel war, we work cooperatively with the Israeli Government, take a look at the facts, take a look at the agreement that was in place and then take a look at the legal requirements as specified in the law. And it was the determination based on the facts that we in a preliminary finding -- I have to emphasize preliminary, it's not a final judgment -- that there may likely could have been some violations of that agreement. So under the law, we are required to report that to the Congress and that is the step that we are taking today. I think it's either already happened or this afternoon. We are forwarding that preliminary assessment to Congress.
QUESTION: What were the conditions of the agreement? Should it be used --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. This is the area in which we bump up against the fact that these agreements for a variety of different reasons is -- very oftentimes it gets into rules of engagement for specific countries and those themselves are usually classified or tightly held by the foreign national government. The agreements, those parts of the agreements that we negotiate with the foreign government are classified, so we do not speak about them in public.
QUESTION: Just -- can you suffice it to say that Israel isn't supposed to use these type of weapons in civilian areas?
MR. MCCORMACK: I am not going to try to get into that at all. Let me just add one other note to the conversation we had this morning as well. We of course will follow the facts scrupulously with respect to the law. And we are forthright and scrupulous in forwarding to the Congress the information that is required by the law. And we will continue to do so, regardless of the case.
Now, as a very practical matter there were a number of munitions that were expended, some of which did not explode in southern Lebanon. And as a matter of humanitarian concern, the international community has expended very significant funds for de-mining operations and dealing with some of those unexploded ordnance and we have been part of that.
Since the period from the end of the conflict this summer -- I don't have the exact date and I think it was in August -- to present we have expended about $9 million in terms of contributing to international humanitarian de-mining efforts which gets at making safe some of these unexploded ordnance items. And as part of her pledge at the Paris conference, included in that number that we talked about the $700-plus million was an additional 5 million -- a little over $5 million for more de-mining assistance. So I just wanted to make clear that we are part of those efforts as well as part of the international efforts to help the Lebanese people reconstruct much of what was lost in southern Lebanon.
QUESTION: Just come back --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: It might help us if you could talk about these agreement in general terms. Because it would be hard to imagine, would it not, an agreement which the United States made with a foreign government which allowed them to use cluster bombs against civilians?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's just an area I can't venture in. You know, I pretty --
QUESTION: In the most general terms --
MR. MCCORMACK: I appreciate the effort and I appreciate the question. It's a fair question. But you're just getting into an area where I can't talk about -- just the nature of these agreements.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) you refuse to comment on whether it would be hard to imagine if the United States Government would be -- would allow an agreement with anybody to allow cluster bombs against civilians.
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, obviously the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel was one between Hezbollah and Hezbollah fighters which engaged in an act of aggression against Israel. They crossed an international border. They started a war. So clearly the conflict was between those two parties.
Now, you and your editors will decide exactly how it is you describe my comments. I can't write your copy for you. Sometimes I wish I could. It's just an area that I can't get into. It gets into the realm of classified information. We are trying to be as forthright and open as we possibly can with regard to this matter. I know it's of interest to you, but there are certain lines that I can't cross.
QUESTION: But as a policy, does the United States agree with Israel that it has the right to use cluster bombs in terms -- as a way of defending themselves against Hezbollah or any other threat?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sue, you can talk to the Israel Government about their rules of engagement, their policies with respect to the use of cluster munitions. They're in their inventory. We have them in our inventory, so clearly they are designed for a certain type of use.
I'll refer you over to my friends at the Pentagon so that they can describe -- should they choose to -- how and under what conditions cluster munitions might be used. Now, a lot of this again gets into rules of engagement. And for a lot of reasons, and a lot of good reasons, military often doesn't talk about the specific rules of engagement.
QUESTION: Now the UN has called for a freeze on the use of cluster bombs. Is the U.S. position still that you keep them -- you're keeping them in your inventory in case you need them or are you looking in to whether there should be a freeze on cluster bombs?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't believe that -- to my knowledge, there is -- and I'm happy to look into whether or not anything has changed recently, but to my knowledge there's no change in our policies.
QUESTION: Can you talk about -- generically speaking, what kinds of sanctions would be envisioned under the Arms Export Control Act?
MR. MCCORMACK: The way it works now is that there is this preliminary report to Congress, and that if Congress requests further action on the part of the Administration then, of course, we'll do so. Whether that's in the form of further reports or other kinds of actions, we would consider what their requests were.
In terms of our work, we will continue our preliminary -- our work in terms of investigation. The Israeli Government has said that they are -- have launched a formal investigation into the use of these particular munitions and how that comported with their rules of engagement and their use policy. I'm not going to speculate what -- if anything -- might be the outcome of these continuing investigations.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) of the investigation itself?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't have it in front of me. I can't tell you. I can't tell you.
QUESTION: Sue, go ahead.
QUESTION: So just from a procedural perspective, does the report recommend action or does the action have to come from Congress? Could that be included in your report or is the onus on Congress to identify the action?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. This is a factual report.
MR. MCCORMACK: It's a factual report.
QUESTION: Just on Sue's point. Is the onus on Congress or you could -- I know you don't want to discuss what could be -- what action could be taken, but do you have the license to take action against a government even if Congress doesn't recommend --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to -- again, we're getting beyond ourselves. I'm trying to tell you where we are in this process right now. I'm not going to try to speculate about what may or may not occur down the road.
QUESTION: Did the United States suspend sales of cluster bombs to Israel pending the outcome of the investigation?
MR. MCCORMACK: Check with DOD. I'll check with our guys. I don't believe so, but I don't know if there were any sales that were ongoing at this point.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea of how long the investigation -- how much more time it needs and when to expect it to be done?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I think that people will take as long as they think they need to in order to get an objective picture of what they think are the facts.
QUESTION: Is it just a matter of getting more information from the Israelis?
MR. MCCORMACK: They collected information from a number of different sources not just the Israeli Government on this.
QUESTION: Who in Congress received the report or the assessment?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think by statute there's -- and it's different in different cases, I think this goes to the Speaker of the House and the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Don't ask me to explain why that particular divide but that's just the requirement under this kind of a law.
QUESTION: And the White House also received a copy of this assessment?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell for sure, but I'm sure that they have -- they have a copy of it. Yeah.
QUESTION: Sean, is this considered really a moot point, because back in that war in mid summer, weren't we saying in many instances Hezbollah were putting munitions and armaments into civilian areas in southern Lebanon?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's a fact that they used human shields, that they hid themselves among the civilian populations. It was one of the aspects of this particular conflict that was -- that made it very, very difficult I think for the international system to watch but also for the Israelis as well. It's -- no military commander wants to be -- have to be put in the position of acting in self-defense and going after those people who have committed aggressions against your country but are then hiding among civilian populations. And we made very clear in public to the Israelis and the Israeli Government, and they made clear as well in their orders, that the Israeli military would take every possible precaution to avoid casualties to innocent civilian populations.
QUESTION: It's on Iraq. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on Friday that the Bush Administration hasn't really done enough to convince the international community to engage in Iraq. I'm just wondering if you have any reaction to that. And he also called for an international conference with the UN and getting the EU more on board. What's your reaction to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I guess I don't know exactly to what Mr. Hoyer is referring. Certainly we had been quite engaged with the international community in generating support, trying to generate support, whether that's economic or political or diplomatic or other kinds of assistance, to the Iraqi people and for the Iraqi Government. I can remember back in 2005 -- I can't give you the exact date -- we had a very large conference in Brussels designed to help support the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people.
In this past September, we had the International Compact for Iraq meet under the auspices of the UN. UN Secretary General -- at the time -- Kofi Annan was co-chair of the conference along with the Iraqis. Those efforts continue. And essentially, very simply, that is the Iraqis will agree to take a number of different steps in terms of political and economic reform, and in return the international community, various member states, will make certain pledges of certain types of contributions. It's basically the kind of deal that was struck between the international system and the Afghan Government that was hosted by Prime Minister Tony Blair in the UK about a year, a year and a half ago.
So there is a lot of activity being -- there's a lot of activity and energy that's being expended by the Administration and by the Iraqis themselves to generate international support for Iraq, the Iraqi people and Iraq's future. I've gone through some of the more formal, larger forum conferences, but there are a number of other efforts that are underway. Secretary Rice on her most recent trip talked a lot with leaders in the region about support for Iraq and the Iraqi people and as well as for supporting the new U.S. strategy in Iraq.
QUESTION: So the current process is working? There's no need for any new sort of initiative to get the international community more engaged in Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: We -- you know, always open to new ideas and good ideas. If there's anything that is qualitatively new and different beyond what it is that I have described, then certainly we're open to those ideas and certainly welcome the efforts of all who want to put their shoulder to the wheel. And in that effort we are engaged in it, we're already there, always willing to welcome more people in to help out.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Iraq, the bombings over the weekend in Najaf? Were you aware of these "Soldiers of Heaven" cults previously or is this a new thing? Can you give me a readout?
MR. MCCORMACK: It was new to me, but that doesn't mean that it was new to our guys in the field. I suspect it was not, but you'd have to ask them.
QUESTION: And what about reports that it's being armed by foreign entities? Any -- can you just give me a bit more on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have a lot of the ground truth. I've seen a lot of the news reports that there were foreign fighters there. It's no surprise that there may have been. I don't know it as a fact because we -- there's a significant presence of foreign fighters in Iraq that are seeking to destabilize the progress that they are making. But on this particular case, I don't have much to offer you.
QUESTION: This was an effort by the Iraqi forces themselves. Would you see this as a positive thing, a good example of how --
MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely. Absolutely. You see the Iraqi forces there, they're in the fight. We are there obviously to support them. It's going to vary case by case exactly whether or not we're shoulder-to-shoulder with them or in blocking positions or providing indirect support or indirect fire, but we are there to support them. It is certainly very positive when you see the Iraqis on the point. That is what they want. That is certainly what we are looking for as well.
QUESTION: Sean, if I could just ask you about Iraq refugees again, and this is something that Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey touched on in her testimony on the Hill a couple of weeks ago. You know, there are stories of several interpreters and translators who have worked for the U.S. Government, several of whom have been severely injured and are seeking medical treatment in Jordan and so on. I'm just wondering if there's been any steps the U.S. has taken to help the system get perhaps refugee status here in the United States.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you have to break this out in a number of different ways. You have the issue of refugees, many of whom are now resident in -- not -- resident is not the right word -- present in Jordan and Syria. And the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has the lead not only in working with the host government to provide humanitarian assistance to them, but also to assess these individuals for whether or not they have a -- a real fear of continuing persecution. I'll get that out eventually. And if they do have that finding then they're classified as refugees and they go around to various member-states to see if they could possibly be resettled into those countries.
Now, we as a country are prepared to possibly take in a fairly significant number of our overall quota of refugees from the region. But those numbers haven't been fully set yet, but there's a little bit of give in the system to allow us to take some in.
Now, you have the issue of people who have worked for the U.S. Government and there are very specific programs that allow us to bring people in from some of these places, including in Iraq, who want to emigrate to the United States after a period of service to the U.S. Government. Now, the military has in place a very specific program. We ourselves are taking a look at what the State Department -- what the U.S. Government might do for those people who have met some term of service to us to see if they would meet the requirements for that same -- for a similar kind of program that the military has. But we don't yet -- we're not there yet. We're taking a look at it.
Certainly we want to do everything we can to encourage those Iraqis who are going to be critical to help rebuilding their country stay in Iraq and invest in their future. At the same time, you also want to honor the service of those individuals who in many cases have risked their lives to help us out.
QUESTION: There's a concern from many, including some that actually testified on the same panel as Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey, that the program that's in place that allows them to get refugee status from the military is restrictive in the sense that it's hard for them to get that recommendation. So I was wondering if you could respond to that.
And also, some are saying that, you know, for their service the U.S. owes it to the Iraqis to give them the status.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we're trying to balance those competing demands that I just talked about there. You want Iraqis to -- those most talented Iraqis, some of whom work for us, those who might form the professional classes or middle classes in Iraq, to invest in Iraq, not in terms of dollar terms but invest in Iraq's future. They have done so, I would argue, already in working with us to help build a better country, but we would encourage that continued investment.
At the same time, you also want to honor those who have taken great risks and oftentimes made great sacrifices to help us out in that effort. But again, we're taking a look at it. I can't tell you we have come to any final conclusions at this point. But those are the two, I guess, competing demands that we're trying to balance.
QUESTION: On that subject, do you have a number, a working number or even a range -- it wouldn't be an exact number. Do you have a range of people who fall into this category? They've worked for the government, they and their families, who might want to leave?
MR. MCCORMACK: Don't. We don't at this point, Charlie. It's something we're trying to get a better handle on.
QUESTION: Aside from the problem of people seeking refugee status, there's also a growing problem, aid groups are saying, of internally displaced people with more than a million people been pushed out of Baghdad. And there's a new study coming out this week by an aid group saying that within the next few months there will probably be more than a million people pushed out of Baghdad if the sectarian conflict and violence stays at the same level. What's the U.S. doing to try and ease this situation? Aid groups say it's really hard to get aid to these people and they've become targets themselves. So I just wondered if this is something you all are particular concerned about.
MR. MCCORMACK: It's something we have our eye on, obviously. Well, the best thing that we can do is help the Iraqis stabilize the security situation in Baghdad. You properly note that a big part of the problem emanate -- really is centered on Baghdad and the -- some of the sectarian conflicts that are ongoing in Baghdad.
So you heard from President Bush in his speech one of the big things we're trying to do is help the Iraqis get a handle on the security situation, a large component of which needs to be dealing with the sectarian conflicts and going after these militias or death squads that operate outside -- that are operating outside -- clearly outside the law.
That in large part, we believe, is responsible for those people who want to flee Baghdad, leave their neighborhoods, leave their homes, and in some cases leave Baghdad. People need to feel as though the security situation is getting better and that they will be more secure if they want to stay there or if people are to return. So I think that's probably the best thing that we can do. We obviously work with aid groups throughout Iraq to help deliver so that they can do the work that they are set up to do. I can't offer you any specifics on that, Sue, but as a general rule that's what we are -- we do work with aid groups in Iraq.
QUESTION: Do you have any figures yourself, any estimates on how many displaced people there are?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- at the tip of my fingers, I don't, no.
QUESTION: Okay. Could you look into that? Is that possible?
From the Daily Press Briefing of Jan. 30, 2007:
QUESTION: The fact that you said that it's the Administration's intention to provide the evidence of Iran's meddling in Iraq, is it still your intention to provide that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect on our own timetable we will make clear what it is that we know about Iran's meddling in Iraq. I don't think that there's any particular rush in this regard, not because there isn't a mountain of convincing evidence from a variety of different aspects, whether that's physical materials or other kinds of linkages. But we're going to go through this carefully. We're going to I'm sure talk about this topic in the weeks and months ahead. I don't think at this point there's any indication that it's going away, that Iran is changing its behavior. I wish that it were otherwise.
So in our own time, when we are able to go through all the information that we have, and when we are able to assure ourselves that in presenting that information in public, that we are not giving away sources and methods that might compromise our ability to collect more of that information, we'll do so.
QUESTION: Do you have any insight into that timeline?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't have any particular timeline for you.
QUESTION: Some reports have said that it could be as early as this week. Can you rule that out that there will not be any evidence --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't expect it to happen this week, no.
QUESTION: Also on Iran, Baker and Hamilton were on the Hill again today about a month and a half after their report came out, the Iraq Study Group. And they were critical of U.S. policy towards Iran and towards Syria and actually the diplomatic offensive that they called for as a whole. They were critical that it hasn't been enough as it relates to Iraq. That, you know, Secretary Rice has made modest efforts in bringing in regional allies but not enough and not urgently enough. So do you have a particular reaction to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: They have their own particular point of view. These are two very highly respected voices in the foreign policy establishment across party lines. They came up with a particular approach in the Baker-Hamilton report. We didn't necessarily agree with that approach -- not meant as a sign of disrespect to either of those gentlemen or the people on the panel -- but we've made very clear why we thought the suggestions that we engage Syria and Iran in the way that they have described at this point would be counterproductive.
QUESTION: Baker and --
MR. MCCORMACK: We have talked about and talked about that. I don't think I need to plow that ground again.
QUESTION: But Baker said specifically today that there was a real opportunity with Syria that he had had -- I know that's not exactly new. We've talked about that. But you know, he said that there is a chance that if we actually, if the U.S. sat down with Syria, that there could be potential to flip them maybe away from Iran, maybe not to the U.S. side, obviously, but just away from their marriage of convenience with Iran --
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, everybody -- I think there's no dispute over the desired end state that you would like in a perfect world to be able to change the behavior of the Syrian regime, vis-à-vis Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, as well as other areas throughout the region. I think everybody shares that goal. The question is how do you get there? Well, the Baker-Hamilton report have suggested one way to do that. We have suggested that that is not the best way to achieve that goal. There has been plenty of engagement with Syria. The Iraqis have engaged them. The Brits have sent an envoy there. You can go down -- you go down the list. A variety of other European states have sent envoys there in an effort and efforts about which we have been informed in efforts to try to get Syria to change its behavior and make it very clear to them that there is a different pathway available to them.
Well, the end result of that is that the Syrians have, thank you very much, pocketed the visits of these individuals said, look, these people are visiting, there's no problems with our -- in our relationships with the rest of the outside world. We see no reason why we need to change our behavior. Very interesting, the Foreign Minister in talking to a columnist in a column that was printed -- I think it was in the past month or two, something like that, again suggesting this idea of engagement with Syria, talked about, "Well, of course, in any sort of engagement, the outside world needs to take into account Syria's strategic interests."
Well, what do you think those strategic interests might be? I would suggest to you that those strategic interests mean letting, in some form, Syria back into Lebanon, something the international community worked very hard and diligently to get them out of after 20 years through the passage of Resolutions 1559, 1595. I would posit to you that they have an interest in not seeing the tribunal that is investigating into -- investigating who was responsible for the murder of former Prime Minister Hariri go forward.
Those are prices that we, as well as the international system, are not willing to pay. So Syria -- now when we get back to the topic of Iraq, the subject of the Baker-Hamilton report, if Syria wants to change its behavior, vis-à-vis Iraq, and play a positive role in Iraq, they will do so. They will see it in their strategic interests to do so regardless of what the outside world is doing for them or not doing for them.
So it is a not a matter of presenting the Syrian Government carrots in order to change its behavior. There have been plenty of those with this Administration way back in 2005 and they were prior to that and more recently by others who have visited the regime, no indication that they have any interest in changing their behavior. And very basically, they are going to do what is in their strategic interest, they're going to do it regardless of what we happen to be doing here in Washington or anybody else around the world.
And they have given no indication at this point that they are going to change their behavior. We wish it were otherwise and certainly, we would wish that the Syrian Government would want to play a constructive role in the region with their neighbors, but not seeing any indications of that.
QUESTION: May I follow up to my question?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yep.
QUESTION: Could you say to what --
MR. MCCORMACK: Follow up on yourself, please do so.
QUESTION: Could you say to what degree the Administration's experience in the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 is playing in the decision to release evidence this time regarding Iran's involvement in Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would say none.
QUESTION: Back to Iran --
MR. MCCORMACK: As far as I know, Kirit, none.
QUESTION: Are there any differences between the Europeans and the U.S. on the financial pressures on Iran and the way to exert these pressures?
MR. MCCORMACK: I saw the story I think you're referring to this morning. Look, I think that the concern is that the -- that European governments are expressing have to do with their legal requirements. They have a set of legal requirements that they have to abide by and I'm not sure I would call that resistance to discussing or cooperating on these various measures. But they have requirements that they need to meet and we're going to continue talking to them about those. I think that there is a -- certainly a political will to talk about these subjects and I think that they understand what's at stake and they understand the importance of maintaining a unified front and squeezing out any of those illegitimate activities that might be accruing under the cover of legitimate activities in their financial system.
So we're talking to the Europeans. You have different sets of laws, different sets of past behaviors in this regard. You have different sets of commercial relationships. So it's not a one-size-fits-all question. You have to do it individually.
But regardless of what the individual states or the European Union might be doing right now, you see European as well as other international businesses making business decisions based on investment risk and reputational risk about whether or not they are going to finance or invest in Iran, a country that is now under Chapter 7 resolutions. So those are a set of decisions that are taking place outside of the discussions that we're having government to government. Of course, we also provide information to individual businesses, but they make their own decisions about what kinds of investments they're going to make.
When you're talking about, for example, investments in or financing for oil and gas ventures, which is the biggest -- by far the biggest part of the Iranian economy -- while we are not in the UN Security Council resolution targeting the oil and gas sector, there is certainly a collateral effect in terms of the financial institutions willing to finance or invest in these kinds of projects. Because especially in that field, the people who are making these investments -- these investment decisions, we are talking about payoffs on investments extending over a decade, two decades, three decades. And they have to take into account what is -- what are the political risks of making those sorts of investments. What sort of stability is there going to be in this investment? Here we have a country that's under Chapter 7 resolution. We don't know if they're going to be under more sanctions in the future given their pattern of behavior. But those are a set of decisions that are made by business, separate and apart from government.
QUESTION: Yes, but New York Times quotes a UN senior official -- U.S. senior official saying that the European response on the economic side has been pretty weak, so it's not really the -- does it mean that there are --
MR. MCCORMACK: Everybody is going to --
QUESTION: -- differences between --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, look. Everybody is --
QUESTION: -- the U.S. Administration?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, Sylvie. Everybody is going to move at their own pace. Okay? Individual European states are going to move at their own pace. I was trying to make the point that there is not a cookie cutter here, there's not a turnkey operation in terms of these types of issues. Each -- the EU has its own laws and regulations and each of the individual member-states of the EU have their own set of banking and finance regulations, and you have to deal with that. You have to deal with those realities. You have to deal with the political realities within each of those countries. You have to deal with the fact that each of those individual countries will have different sets of commercial relationships. So you might have to work with them a little bit more because this is a much bigger decision for one country versus another country.
That doesn't mean that we don't think the overall -- everything is heading in the right direction. We believe it is. We believe that the existing Security Council resolution has been extraordinarily effective, I think even more effective than we would have thought it would have been. So this will, again, move at a certain pace. There's a certain rhythm to it. Each of these individual countries will move, again, at a different pace.
QUESTION: So if somebody is impatient, it's not the State Department?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- there's nothing wrong with being impatient. There's absolutely nothing wrong with being impatient given the stakes. And certainly we are going to continue to push and prod. People are going to continue to push and prod us. But that's to be expected given what's at stake here: Iran getting a nuclear weapon. Nobody wants to see that.
QUESTION: In terms of the oil and gas sector, I mean, you said that one of the collateral effects is that financial institutions won't back some of these projects. But Shell and a Spanish company, for example, are moving ahead, so that flies in the face of your argument that it's --
MR. MCCORMACK: Individual -- no, but individual -- well, look at the empirical data. If you look at various banks -- I'm just -- at this point, I'm just relying on press reports. If you look at major European-based banks, they have either greatly reduced or even, in some cases, stopped dealing with the Iranian Government and that's just based on press reports that I've seen.
You're going to see other businesses make different business decisions. They might have a different appetite for risk in terms of their investment decisions. I mean, that just goes -- it makes my point that these businesses are going to make their own individual decisions and it's all going to be based on their own appetite for risk -- political risk, investment risk, your reputational risk, all of those things. It all goes into making a decision to invest large sums of money in these various sectors.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Iraq quickly?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: On the issue of the evidence against Iran, what role is the State Department playing in putting that together? You know, so far, we've heard that this is information seized by the U.S. military and that's what -- you know, that's what's going to be part of the evidence. So what role is State playing in putting that together and -- well, in possibly presenting it to the American public?
MR. MCCORMACK: On -- in terms of the sources of information, I would expect, as with any intelligence-based activity, that there are multiple sources of intelligence, and in order to arrive at a conclusion you have to triangulate those, have faith in your analysis, faith in the sources.
So those -- I can't tell you exactly all the various sources from which people are collecting things. I don't -- I can't tell you whether or not State Department intelligence bureau has any role in that or not. I just don't know.
Certainly, we'll take a look at whatever it is -- the presentation is, add our comments. Whether or not we play a role in rolling this out, laying it out for folks, I think that that is a decision that has yet to be taken.
QUESTION: And then another on Iraq, sorry.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Are you aware of this letter that Senator Levin and Senator McCain have sent to Secretary Rice? I guess Levin said today that it's been -- he has asked three times since November --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- for clarification on political benchmarks --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- for the Iraqi Government to meet. Does the State Department plan on responding to this letter?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I think we have a draft of it that's in the building here. People are working on responding to it. Of course, we want to be responsive to senators when they have inquiries. I haven't had a look at the letter, so I can't tell you exactly what it says, but I think what Secretary Rice would say is that the Iraqis themselves have laid out a series of benchmarks that they plan to meet. Prime Minister Maliki has spoken in detail about the political as well as the military benchmarks that they themselves have laid out.
And they understand that more than anything else, they're accountable to the Iraqi people. When Prime Minister Maliki sat down with President Bush in Amman, Jordan, the first thing he talked about was security in Baghdad and he talked about the fact that his government needed to provide security for the people in Baghdad, otherwise they were going to lose confidence in his government.
So they understand fully what it is that they need to do. They know what the tasks are ahead of them. They know that they need to pass an oil law. They need -- they know that they need to pass something dealing with de-Baathification. They know that they need to pass a budget that allocates and distributes Iraqi wealth to all Iraqis so that they are, in fact, and are perceived to be a government for all Iraqis. So Prime Minister Maliki has laid out those benchmarks.
I don't think that we have any new benchmarks that we would lay out for ourselves or lay out for the Iraqis right now. They know what they have to do and they have to do that -- certainly, they have to demonstrate to the American people that they are acting and that they understand that they have to act. I think everybody understands that. But more than anybody else, they have to -- more than anything else, they have to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that they have both the will as well as the capability to act on their behalf.
QUESTION: Libya. The son of Qadhafi --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- has stated in an interview that they have a plan to free the Bulgarian nurses. I wanted to know if you looked into it and if you have any comment on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Don't have much more to say than I said yesterday, in that we have been engaged with the Libyans on this question. We have made our views known to them, which is the same thing that we've said in public. We believe that a way should be found to return them to their home countries as soon as possible. And we understand that the Libyans have a certain judicial process that they have been going through, but nevertheless we believe that a way should be found to return them home.
But if, in fact, the Libyans do act on what this gentleman has said, certainly that would be welcome. I think that would be welcome news on many, many fronts. And I would just note, however, regardless of what happens with respect to these individuals in being able to get home that we understand the real tragedy that occurred in Libya and that you're never going to be able to replace the losses of loved ones and children that occurred those years back in Libya.
QUESTION: If you remember, well, there was a fund which was proposed by U.S. and the Europeans to finance --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Yeah. And we have -- working with Baylor University, we had some participation in trying to address this issue inside of Libya some form of humanitarian gesture. I believe that the Bulgarians as well as the EU are -- have also been looking at some way to address the humanitarian issue in Libya. I don't have the details for you, but I know that they have been --
QUESTION: You don't know if it was accepted by Libya or not?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I don't.
QUESTION: Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister.
QUESTION: One more on Libya.
QUESTION: That's fine.
QUESTION: Are there any moves or any plans to send up an ambassador -- to send up a request to the Hill for an ambassador, U.S. ambassador from Libya or is that still static?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't checked on that one recently. We'll see. I'll check -- see if we have anything that we can say on that beyond the normal admonitions about personnel. You know, you'll see it when you see it sort of thing.
QUESTION: Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister said Saudi Arabia and Iran are really working together to try and resolve the crisis in Iraq and in Lebanon. I'm wondering how you feel about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: That particular pairing and that --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) sort of unusual relationship.
MR. MCCORMACK: No. You know, obviously the Saudis and the Iranians would decide for themselves how they work together or not, what issues they want to work together on. There's an elected government in Lebanon. They represent the interests of the Lebanese people. They act in -- they act on behalf of the Lebanese people. The Lebanese people put them in place to do that. There are a lot of different actors within the region who have talked about playing a positive role in trying to help the Lebanese get beyond the current political crisis with which they are faced.
There are many who have devoted a lot of time to this. Amre Moussa has, you know, I think taken a couple of trips to Lebanon, had a lot of conversations to see if they could find a formula that would work -- that was acceptable to all sides within the Lebanese political scene. Those efforts continue. And certainly any effort where a solution that is welcomed and acceptable to the elected Lebanese Government is something that is acceptable to us and I think that that is the key. Something that is acceptable to the elected government would be acceptable to us.
QUESTION: Just one more. (Inaudible) the idea of Iran playing a peace broker role in the region, it seems together with Saudi Arabia in places like Lebanon and Iraq at a time where the U.S. wants to isolate and pressure Tehran.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we want to see from Iran is a change of behavior. And if in fact they are engaged in attempts to play a positive role in the region, that would seem to be somewhat of a change. We'll see. We'll see if in fact those efforts come to fruition, see if those efforts are acceptable to Prime Minister Siniora and his government. Certainly as Iran and Saudi Arabia that is not a pairing that you hear about every day in the news headlines, it is up to them how they relate to one another. But our problem with Iran has been the behavior of the regime. And our diplomatic efforts on a variety of different fronts are aimed at changing that behavior. Maybe this is -- maybe this at the end will turn out to be one small indication that they are changing their behavior, but I think it's premature to make that judgment right now.
MR. MCCORMACK: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: -- and whether you have any details about that. What's on the agenda? There were meetings last week among the envoys to see where you were going to be going with this. What are you --
MR. MCCORMACK: I have an idea, but let me talk to the Secretary first about it --
MR. MCCORMACK: And we'll -- I'll have something for you tomorrow morning and --
QUESTION: Okay. Will you --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- we can talk a little bit about it.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you going to provide a briefing before it or --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think anything more than poor old me.
QUESTION: Right, okay.
MR. MCCORMACK: In and around this thing you'll have all the principals. You'll have an opportunity to fire some questions at them when they're here. It's the standard setup.
QUESTION: The Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that he would like to engage with Talibans to discuss peace talks or to have peace talks with them. Do you think it's a good idea?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen the specifics of the proposal, Sylvie. But periodically I know President Karzai has thought that it was useful to try to bring in people who may have associated themselves in one way or the other with the Taliban in order to invest them in a political process. Certainly it is a laudable goal to try to bring as many people and invest as many people into that political process. There are, of course, going to be those individuals who are irreconcilable to any sort of democratic political process. You have to deal with them using security services. And in any case, in trying to address the issue of the Taliban you need to have an integrated counterinsurgency strategy, which is what we working with NATO and our NATO partners have, as well as working with the Afghan Government.
QUESTION: So just one more on the Quartet. Will there be a GCC+2 or 4 or whatever?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're going to have the GCC --
QUESTION: The Quartet+2?
MR. MCCORMACK: -- and Jordan and Egypt. We'll try to give them proper due.
QUESTION: Right. Will there be one prior to the Quartet meeting?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't believe so. Foreign Minister Abu Gheit will be here next week, February 5th, for a visit. But I think this is going to be a straight up, plain vanilla Quartet meeting.
MR. MCCORMACK: I would note today is an important day. It is the one-year anniversary of the Quartet statement with regard to the behavior of Hamas that was negotiated in London. And I think you will find despite the many naysayers -- and I'm not going to say that I see any in this room today -- that that statement has actually held up quite well and been very important in rallying the international community to laying out a clear standard of behavior for the Palestinian government, and that adherence to that statement actually has grown over time in terms of not only the members of the Quartet but those in the region that have come out and not only supported it rhetorically and diplomatically but in terms of their actions.
So it is -- I just thought it was an important note one year later. And then on the eve of another Quartet meeting it was an important document that was negotiated by this particular group in London a year ago today.
QUESTION: Funny you say that, because Britain's parliamentary committee came out with a report today saying that the West's isolation of Hamas has only served to push it closer to Iran and that it's being counterproductive.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think -- you know, look, that's an assessment. I think the reality of it is that Hamas has now been forced to govern. They have failed in that. The sort of -- this idea among the Palestinians that Hamas were fighting on behalf of the Palestinian people and they were this resistance force, we of course consider them a terrorist organization. But nonetheless, that that has -- that idea has been really stripped away. Now they are politicians who can't make their government run and they cannot govern on behalf of the Palestinian people, and that with their adherence to the platform of terror and use of violence that the Palestinian people are no closer to the state that they hope for. The pathway and the hope for that state is really with people like President Abbas who are ready and willing to engage the international community, ready and willing to engage the Israeli people, the Israeli Government, in order to work out a political solution.
And in the meantime, we have used this period of time to work with others in the region to try to exploit that opening that we think now exists to try to see if there are possibilities for a political horizon for the Palestinian people. That's not because of Hamas' election, but because of the dedication of people like President Abbas and people around him to seeking peace.
QUESTION: Are you planning on maybe expanding the temporary international mechanism possibly, the Quartet meeting to include --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure. I think they did that --
QUESTION: Last week, two weeks --
MR. MCCORMACK: It was at the end of December, I think, because it was coming up for renewal and I think that they extended it for another six months, I think, and they just did it -- three months -- they did it through a letter.
MR. MCCORMACK: So I don't think that that is -- I don't think that's on the agenda right now.
MR. MCCORMACK: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Also on Abbas -- I mean, you talk about all these kind of programs and things you're working on to prop up President Abbas and efforts to strengthen his security forces. And while he condemned the suicide bombing yesterday, I mean, certainly, this shows that there hasn't been a crackdown on Palestinian militants. Do you place the onus on Hamas or do you feel that President Abbas also has a responsibility to do more to crack down on militants?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we think that the Palestinian security forces need to stop terror attacks. It's sad that you are not able to stop every single one of those. That is because there are people who, regardless of the fact that you might have a moment when you can exploit an opening to make progress for -- on a Palestinian state, that there are going to be those who want to derail that because they don't find it in their interest. You see acts like this. They're sad. It is a terrible tragedy when innocent civilians lose their life.
(Interruption - cell phone ringing.)
MR. MCCORMACK: That's a phone violation by the State Department -- my staff, by the way. (Laughter.) Just for the record, that is not a phone violation by the press corps.
And so you're going to have to deal with that. That is a sad, unfortunate fact of life in the Middle East right now, that there are going to be those who want to derail any sort of hope for a Palestinian state. We believe President Abbas and the people working with him are dedicated to try to use the negotiating table to work out differences. Meanwhile, we will work to strengthen those security forces that are under the command of President Abbas.
It's a tall order because these were security forces that were fragmented, set against one another and, in many cases, thoroughly corrupt under the rule of Yasser Arafat. That's how he wanted it. So you're really trying to overcome quite a large obstacle and it's taking some time, but we're dedicated to it. President Bush and Secretary Rice talked about how we're going to -- we plan to dedicate some funds in order to help out those security forces, make them more professional, help organize them, and we're going to continue to do that. We're going to continue working with the EU as well as others to help out on the governance piece as well as other parts of this.
QUESTION: Right, but you talk about the responsibility that Hamas has failed to govern the Palestinian people. Can you point to concrete steps that -- beyond talking about a two-state solution and advocating a peaceable solution, can you talk about concrete steps that President Abbas has taken to lead on the security front?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. He and the security forces are the only thing on the Palestinian side that keep these crossings open when they're open. I'm not saying that they're open every single day, but that's the only reason why you have any of those open at any point and have that commerce go through, so there's one good example for you.
QUESTION: But on cracking down on militants, for example?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you have -- you still have Kassam rockets coming out of the north, but you have fewer of them coming out of the north. It's not perfect, but it is better.
QUESTION: I'd like to ask you one more about this Iran evidence here. Can you just say more about --
MR. MCCORMACK: Equus mortis, beating a dead horse.
QUESTION: If you don't mind --
QUESTION: If you don't mind answering more broadly whether there have been -- I mean, if this is being delayed in any way over (inaudible).
MR. MCCORMACK: Delayed?
MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't see anybody set a date for it.
QUESTION: I mean -- but are there any concerns within the Administration besides the intelligence and so on? I mean, is this --
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, you want to make sure that you have -- people have talked about this. You want to make sure that you have the best possible picture of what the Iranians are doing in Iraq. You want to present that picture in as full a light as possible, in such a way that you don't do harm to your ability to fight the people that are engaged in these kinds of behaviors down the road. You don't want to compromise your sources and methods.
QUESTION: Just to continue beating the dead horse --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: -- if I may, when the presentation ultimately occurs, will it be here or will it be done in Baghdad? Do we know?
MR. MCCORMACK: Zane, I couldn't tell you. Probably in Baghdad, probably in Baghdad, yeah.
QUESTION: On the -- (inaudible) TV, but --
QUESTION: What's that supposed to mean?
QUESTION: Well, you need sound bites and he's not giving them to you, so you keep -- yeah, anyway --
MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible).
QUESTION: Nancy Pelosi has been sort of doing photo-ops in Afghanistan and Baghdad and other places. I understand that she wanted to make the point that now she and the House are a very major foreign policy maker. Does that irritate the Secretary in any way? And is there any cooperation between the State Department and the planning of these visits by the speaker?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as with any congressional delegation, we, of course, offer any assistance that they might need in country, setting up meetings, going along with them, providing them the logistical support that they need. We're happy to do that. It's important that Congress and members of Congress inform themselves of what is going on around the world. They have to legislate on these issues. They have a say, certainly, in terms of the power of the purse.
On this particular congressional delegation, I don't think we have anybody along with them. It's up to the delegation members whether or not representatives from the embassy sit in on their meetings. We're happy to go if they so desire. Prior to their departure, I know that we had a briefing up on the Hill for them about each of their stops.
QUESTION: Thank you.
From the Daily Press Briefing of Jan. 31, 2007:
QUESTION: Can you give us a preview of the Quartet meeting?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, I'll give you a little bit of a preview. They're going to be getting together on Friday, representatives from the EU, Russia, UN, and the United States. This is a meeting that's really designed for the Quartet to get together to take stock of where we are in the Middle East, to talk about how we, as a part of the international system, can help generate the support that is going to be necessary if the Israelis and Palestinians are going to exploit the opportunities that are now before them to potentially move the process of reconciliation between the Israelis and Palestinians forward.
Speaking in very practical terms, what does that mean? Well, it talks -- it's a little bit of a division of labor within the international system; who has what assets that can help, for example, build up Palestinian institutions, institutions of governance, institutions of security. They will talk about other ways that, collectively, they can marshal the forces of the international community in support of this process.
I expect that they will reaffirm their commitment to the Quartet statement from a year ago yesterday, which outlines the conditions that Hamas has to meet if they want to realize a different kind of relationship with the international community. We'll also talk about -- the Secretary will also talk a little bit about her past trip as well as her upcoming trip to the Middle East, which, it is expected, she would sit down with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas together. She will have other meetings and other stops along the way during that trip as we get closer to her departure date, which will probably be mid-February, but we don't have anything written in pen at this point. It's penciled in.
She will talk about that trip and how we can all work together and coordinate to reach a common objective and that is to move this process forward, to see if we can collectively help the Israelis and Palestinians exploit the openings that we now have before us.
QUESTION: Does it -- I mean, it sounds a bit like a pledging conference than -- I mean, if you match up (inaudible) --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, I don't -- no --
QUESTION: I mean, how does that work?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, because these are existing resources. I'll give you an example. We are working with the Palestinians, building up their security forces. Those responsible parties within the Palestinian political structure, President Abbas and the people around him; how can they best organize themselves, how can they best train them -- how can they best be trained and equipped to meet the requirements of helping to provide security for the Palestinian people and stopping terror attacks.
They need some help with that, because we all understand exactly how far those security forces had sunk under Yasser Arafat. They were thoroughly corrupt. They were fragmented. There was no central command and control other than the word of Yasser Arafat. So they have a long way to come in order to get up to some sort of international standard that they could help provide security for the Palestinian people and that they -- in doing so, that they would reassure the international community that they would be up to the task for providing security so that you don't have these kind of continuing terrorist attacks. They're not there yet.
The Europeans have worked also with the Palestinians on governance, for example. They have worked also in the areas of police training. So it's really to talk about how -- what we are currently doing, how we can coordinate efforts, political, diplomatic, assistance efforts, and talk about what are the gaps that exist and how either we might fill those or others might be enlisted to help out in the cause.
QUESTION: So is the gaps part, that's what's new? Because, I mean, as you point out, the U.S. is already helping security services, Europeans are already helping. It presumably -- we would already know what we're doing and they would already know what they're doing. So I'm still confused on what the purpose of talking about --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, it is -- in large part this is an exercise in demonstrating political and diplomatic support for the efforts that are currently underway. And it is a manifestation of political and diplomatic support for those in the region who have an interest in bridging the differences between the Israelis and Palestinians and trying to get to a political horizon for the Palestinians and tackling some of the tangible real-world problems and obstacles that exist right now. So that is what is at its root there. There are practical aspects to it as well, like I just talked about.
QUESTION: What's the Russian contribution? You mentioned the U.S. contribution, the EU contribution, what does Russia bring to the table?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, obviously, the political and diplomatic support. I'm not -- I can't tell you I'm fully briefed on exactly their assistance programs to the Palestinians, so we can -- either we or they can talk about more about that in the future.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary going to see General Dayton today?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think he is on her schedule today, yes.
QUESTION: Sean, does the Secretary still plan to try to get the three parties -- Olmert, Abbas and the United States -- together this month to talk?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, that's still the plan, still the plan. Like I said, we don't have any date set or venue set yet. We're working through all the preliminaries in order to make that a productive meeting, but that is still our intention, yes.
QUESTION: Sorry, I may have missed this. I came in a little bit late. What part of -- will the Quartet be discussing this summit and what perhaps will be discussed at --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, exactly. She's going to talk a little bit about her past trip, bring them fully up to date, fully up to speed where we are in the process, her discussions during her last trip, subsequent discussions she's had with individuals in the region, others interested in the process, as well as looking forward to what it is that she hopes to achieve in the coming meetings with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas as well as her other stops in the region.
MR. MCCORMACK: Samir, again.
QUESTION: Sorry. There was a quote in the Washington Post last week, I think by Mr. David Ignatius. He had an interview with the Secretary. He said she's going to encourage Abbas and Olmert to go beyond the roadmap and to start discussing the final status issues. Is that --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that wasn't exactly -- that's not exactly it. She talked about working within the framework of the roadmap. And within the roadmap all of these very contentious and thorny issues such as right-of-return and borders and economic issues and Jerusalem. Those are all things that are part of the roadmap that are envisioned at the end of the roadmap.
The idea, as she explained, is to begin to have a conversation about any of the issues, difficult issues, that either side might want to bring up that are part of that political horizon. I'm not trying to specify what they may or may not talk about; that's part of what each of the parties have to decide. But the idea is that they haven't talked about any of these issues for going on six years now. So can they start to have those conversations while they also work on the very practical real-world current issues of roadblocks -- I mean, not roadblocks -- checkpoints, keeping -- how to keep the crossing points between Gaza and Israel functioning, how to better provide security on the Palestinian side. Things that need to be dealt with if -- that, at some point along the way, in the creation of a Palestinian state, so we have to deal with those issues regardless. But also to talk about the issues that are of interest to those who are -- who want to start talking about, well, what are the political outlines of the issues between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
QUESTION: You spoke about demonstrating in political and diplomatic support. What kind of support will be the final statements, something you are going to --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure they'll put out -- I'm sure that, you know, David Welch and his counterparts are negotiating a communiqué. We usually put out a piece of paper from these meetings and we will all get that once it has been blessed by the principals of the Quartet. Just the very fact that this group is getting together to talk about the issues before them, talk about how it is that they might support this process I think is an important demonstration of the commitment of everybody around that table to try -- do everything they can to move the process forward.
QUESTION: Is that the same as saying that you do expect the Quartet to endorse this change in approach or at least in timeline about what you talk about first or when you talk about it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not going to presuppose what it is that they're going to agree to, but I think that the fact that they're getting together is a demonstration that they support what is being done by us as well as others.
QUESTION: Do you plan a press conference?
MR. MCCORMACK: Part of the plan is the standard setup with one of these Quartet meetings is they will get together and read a statement and then probably take some question from the Press Corps.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about this Iraq Reconstruction audit reports?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: There's been a lot of attention drawn to, you know, money that could have been wasted, that too much money is going to security. You got a reaction to this?
MR. MCCORMACK: This is Stuart Bowen's report? Yeah, I think he specifically has said that in conducting his audits, fraud has not been a major component of his findings. He has raised questions about how money has been spent and the priorities that have been placed on the money that's been spent and some of the projects there. And we take those criticisms into account.
Very oftentimes, he has highlighted issues, issue areas that have been of concern to us and we have taken actions to remediate some of the things that he has raised with us. So the special inspector general, the inspector general function in Iraq is an important function. It is valuable to us here at the State Department. It's valuable to the American taxpayer to make sure that their money gets spent in appropriate ways, in ways that are effective, that meet the objectives that we've laid out.
QUESTION: Do you think any -- there will be a problem with the Iraqi Government's ability to budget the money once they have it?
MR. MCCORMACK: The Iraqi Government?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they -- look, they are a fledgling democracy and they're just now building the institutions that come along with a democracy. And along with building those institutions, you have to put in place the mechanisms to ensure that funds are spent properly and that you have proper oversight of how those funds are spent.
I can't comment in detail. I'm sure it will vary from bureaucracy to bureaucracy, but they're just at the starting gate -- but we are very mindful of the fact that they are just at the starting gate and putting in place all of these procedures. So we're working with them to make sure that they are in place. Where there have been instances of -- where the Iraqis have done investigations and found suspicions about fraud and abuse, those people have been held to account. I can think of a couple instances where people have been put on trial for fraud or embezzlement or misuse of funds.
So they are just getting started. There are some hopeful indications there that the system is beginning to function. I'm not telling you by any means that they are at the -- they have a completed product at this point, so we're going to continue working with them to make sure the funds -- any funds that we give to the Iraqi Government are well-spent and spent on the projects that they're intended to be spent on.
QUESTION: Was this a surprise to the State Department that the nature of this report and the --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think this is -- this was -- he does quarterly reports and I can't tell you exactly how far in advance we get some of these reports, but we do have an opportunity to provide input to them. Obviously, we provide a lot of information to them as well.
I think that there is also -- there are also some -- there's a case in there about the police academy and that sort of -- and the kind of expenditures that were made and the priorities of how the money was used. I would just point out that when Anne Patterson came into her job in 2005 here for the Assistant Secretary for INL, she looked at all the programs. They have a large budget. In that sense, it's unusual for a State Department bureau, in that they have a lot of actual operational contracts. They do a lot of training and that sort of thing.
So she looked at these contracts, she looked at these programs, and there were some of -- a couple of them in Iraq that really raised some concerns with her, so she immediately went to our inspector general and said, "Look, I actually have some concerns about these programs. I'm asking you to look into them and to do an audit of them." And what happened is that these two efforts actually occurred in parallel, as I understand it. So you had the State Department Inspector General looking into these programs at Anne Patterson's behest, meanwhile you had the SIGIR that was doing the same thing.
So I just point it out as a way of demonstrating that we do take this very seriously here at the State Department. We want to be good stewards of the American taxpayers' dollars.
QUESTION: I was just going to say, specifically with this police academy, because it's drawing so much attention, this Olympic-size swimming pool and this kind of thing, is it still sitting empty or --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, they're looking at ways to put the facility to use.
QUESTION: The report talks about a lot of money that was overpaid in these contracts. Can you tell us where that money is at this point?
MR. MCCORMACK: Overpaid?
QUESTION: There's overpayments and so on. It talks about -- you know, that there were contracts that were irregular and then, you know, it was overpaid. Can you tell us --
MR. MCCORMACK: Where is the money right now?
QUESTION: Where's the money?
MR. MCCORMACK: Kirit, I'll have to get somebody who's more well-versed in the minutia of these reports to get you the information.
QUESTION: Do you know if it's been repaid back at this point or is it --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to find out for you, Kirit.
QUESTION: Can I switch topics?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Let's see.
QUESTION: Well, I have Iraq, but --
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about these reports that the U.S. is investigating that Iran was involved in the attack in Karbala on U.S. soldiers. Do you have anything to substantiate that or?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. Talking to the folks over at the Department of Defense who are -- I'm not talking specifically of people conducting the investigation but the -- you know, my counterparts over there, they're not sure exactly where this particular report is coming from. Clearly, the Department of Defense is looking into this particular attack. It was a tragedy. American soldiers lost their lives and we want to understand who is responsible and how it happened, absolutely.
The attack was notable, as you have reported, for the fact that it was highly organized. Now, I don't think that the Department of Defense has come to any conclusions as to who exactly is responsible for the attack and what, if any, role -- and I understand what, if any, role -- Iranian agents may have played in it. I just simply can't tell you that. I'm not trying to dissuade you from the point. That may well end up being the case, but I don't think anybody at this point can tell you that that is, in fact, the case now.
We do know that, and we have talked about the fact quite publicly, that the Iranian regime is engaged in supplying militias, they are engaged in training militias. I can't say that any of those activities relate to the people who perpetrated this attack.
QUESTION: I --
MR. MCCORMACK: Do you have a follow-up, Libby?
QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to just follow up. So you're saying there's no conclusions that have been made by the DOD, but they do have reason to believe -- they are looking into the Iranian connection there?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you that they are. I, you know, honestly I can't tell you from where these reports spring. I can't tell you if people are extrapolating, if they are hypothesizing, where it comes from. All I can -- all I've seen are anonymous sources on this. DOD would be -- is in a much better position. I'm several steps removed over here at the State Department and they would be in a much better position to be able to tell you exactly where they are in their investigation, whether or not they have drawn any of these conclusions. But in my discussions with them, they haven't indicated that they know of anything at this point that substantiate the reports.
QUESTION: And have you seen General Odierno made some comments to USA Today about some of the equipment that Iran allegedly is supplying for Iraqi militias, including Katusha rockets?
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have you seen those comments that Odierno made?
MR. MCCORMACK: I saw -- yeah, I saw the comments that he made.
QUESTION: Does that sound right to you? Those --
MR. MCCORMACK: He's the man on the ground, so I take his word for it.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
QUESTION: There was some expectation that more evidence would be shown this week about Iran's involvement and activities. When might that --
MR. MCCORMACK: I've been cautioning everybody all week long here, we will do this on our own timeline and we're going to do it in such a way that it is properly presented, it is clear and it is done in such a way that in presenting this information that we don't in any way jeopardize our ability to further collect information about these networks. So we'll do this on our own timeline.
QUESTION: Is there a duty to inform Congress about it first or --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm certainly -- I'm sure we will share the information with the Congress, but I am not sure that there's any legal requirement that guides what steps you take and when you do -- and when you inform them.
MR. MCCORMACK: What's that? On this topic?
QUESTION: On Iran.
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on this?
QUESTION: Just on this letter that the Secretary sent to Senator Levin. It talks about a lot of missed deadlines and so on. I'm just wondering if you had, first, any comment on it. Second, if this is something we've brought up with the Iraqi Government, if we've tried to work with them to help them get to this point and what we're doing at this point.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, absolutely we talk to them about it. They know what they have to do. They are working through their political processes. We're talking with them about the hydrocarbon law, we're talking about the de-Baathification law, we're talking to them about their efforts to create a virtual moderate governing coalition, and also on the security side as well standing up the nine -- the nine districts. They've already appointed a commander getting the forces -- getting their forces deployed. I know they're working on that. Some of the forces are starting to flow from the north down to the south. So they're working through all of these things.
And we're -- you know, we're talking to them every single day about this, I can assure you. And we're certainly -- we're on the case, as are they. And we believe that it is important to give them an opportunity to see if this plan will work. A big component of this plan working is going to be the Iraqis stepping in. They are giving every indication that they are doing that. I think at this point you start to see the forces flowing south, you start to see some of the things that need to happen happen. Now, in terms of are they meeting all of the exact timelines that they have set out for themselves, I think that they would tell you that not all of them at this point. But I think the general assessment is that they are moving in the right direction.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that. I mean, the Administration has touted these benchmarks for a while now. Is it any concern that they've missed them and have you been working with the Iraqi Government to set new deadlines?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's the same. We work with them every single day to move them along. You can't -- we obviously can't make decisions for them. We can't take -- you know, we don't have a vote in the Iraqi parliament, but we can work with them to move the process along.
QUESTION: Levin's letter, Sean, says specifically that the Administration does not intend to attach meaningful consequences for the Iraqis continuing to fail to meet their commitments. He said that the letter she wrote makes it abundantly clear that there will not be consequences.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think -- you know, I don't think you need to explain the consequences to the Iraqi leadership. I think they understand what the consequences are. I think they've already lived some of the consequences. Tariq al-Hashimi has lost two brothers and a sister. I think they are acutely aware.
QUESTION: But what about --
MR. MCCORMACK: I think they are acutely aware of what the consequences of not succeeding. They know what those --
QUESTION: The consequences for what the U.S. Government action will be?
MR. MCCORMACK: They know what those are. And the President has spoken to the fact that we are working in support of them. But the Iraqis need to demonstrate that they are stepping up and they need to demonstrate that they have not only the will but the capability to execute their plan. And as I was telling Kirit, they are moving along. They are moving along here. And where they need to improve their execution of the plan, we are working with them on that.
QUESTION: You asked rhetorically a moment ago whether they have been meeting all of these target dates set for themselves and answered yourself, "not all of them." Have they met any of them?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. They -- for example, the appointment of a commander for Baghdad, that's one example where they have (inaudible). You know, I don't have the laundry list for you, but they have, yes.
QUESTION: Most of them have to do, though, with passing laws by certain dates, right?
MR. MCCORMACK: A lot of it has to do with that. They are -- you know, the much talked about hydrocarbon law is they're working through the final language fixes. But -- and you know, I'm not going to play their lawyer here, but you have to understand that the hydrocarbon law actually gets to many of the core issues that we're talking about here, how the various parts of Iraq relate to one another and it gets to some of the essential political bargains that are hard to arrive at -- not making excuses for them, but I'm just trying to explain the context --
QUESTION: About setting elections --
MR. MCCORMACK: Setting elections, the de-Baathification law.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, they are working through all of these things. They haven't succeeded in passing all of them yet.
QUESTION: Well, they haven't succeeded in passing any of those, right?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's right.
QUESTION: Sean, when you talk about the consequences that they see on the ground every day, but the main thing for the State Department that you're working on is making sure that the Iraqis get the political situation together. So I mean, when President Bush talks about benchmarks and making sure the Iraqis meet them, are you going to hold the Iraqis accountable in terms of U.S. support in dollars, in military commitment, for them meeting their benchmarks on getting the political situation together? Consequences for U.S. action?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I understand that. And all of that entails making a bottom line judgment whether or not their efforts are succeeding. And I would put to you that it is too early at this point to make that judgment. President Bush and Secretary Rice have talked about the fact that we need to give them an opportunity to implement the plan, execute the plan and to see if it will succeed. That is where we are right now in the process.
What you're talking about are penalties for failure, not succeeding, or demonstrating a lack of will in executing the plan. What I'm telling you at this point, that's not where we are. President Bush has made it abundantly clear -- the Iraqis understand, the American people understand -- that this is not an open-ended commitment. They have to perform. They understand their part of the bargain in all of this.
QUESTION: Sean, the incoming head of CENTCOM yesterday indicated that he wasn't familiar in great detail with the President's plan for Iraq. Are you or the State Department now better aware or familiar with the plan for diplomatic augmentation, to use the Secretary's word, in terms of not only the PRTs but any other diplomatic efforts that will have to be made to supplement what's being done on the military side?
MR. MCCORMACK: In Iraq or --
QUESTION: Yeah, in Iraq. In Iraq. Because you've talked about there'll be additional PRTs probably in Baghdad --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, Baghdad and Anbar.
QUESTION: Right. Any -- has that been fleshed out more? It's been a couple of -- well, it's been quite some time now since the President announced the new plan.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think your question is have they started working on staffing these things up.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sort of --
QUESTION: And figuring out exactly what they're going to be doing.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, people are working. I can't tell you exactly, you know, where they are, but even prior to the announcement of the PRTs we were already working on identifying PRT leaders and who would be members of these teams and building up the infrastructure that's needed to support them.
All right, somebody who hasn't had one. Yes, sir. We'll get to you, Mr. Gollust.
QUESTION: Okay. Another subject.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.
QUESTION: The Iraqi Government is organizing a regional conference. They are inviting all their neighbors, including Syria and Iran. I wanted to know what is your opinion, if you think it's a good idea.
MR. MCCORMACK: I looked into it a little bit. As I understand I -- I don't know if they've sent out formal invitations to a regional conference -- but certainly we would support such an effort by the Iraqi Government. They have talked about this for some time. We ourselves have worked with many of Iraq's neighbors to encourage them to support Iraq diplomatically, politically through assistance or whatever other way that they see fit. So certainly we would have a positive view of the Iraqis holding such a regional conference.
QUESTION: Even if you are not invited?
MR. MCCORMACK: We're not in the region.
Who else had Iraq? Samir, did you have an Iraq question?
QUESTION: Yes. Do you have a readout of the meeting yesterday Ambassador Khalilzad had with the King of Saudi Arabia?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I don't.
Okay. Anybody else on Iraq?
QUESTION: Yeah, actually Khalilzad. When is he -- when is the switchover happening?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think there's been a date set yet. He has to -- first of all both he and Ryan have to go through confirmation hearings. I don't want to get ahead of where we are in the process. But let us presume or hope for a positive outcome of both of those hearings and they're confirmed and so forth; I would expect over the next month or two. But again, this is the Senate's prerogative as to when it schedules hearings and so forth.
QUESTION: They haven't scheduled either of those hearings, right?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I'm not sure that we've filled our end of the bargain yet, that they've gotten all their paperwork up.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, Senate prerogative, but I think it'll occur next week or two.
Yeah, okay. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: As you know, Turkish Foreign Minister Gul is coming to Washington next week. He will have a meeting with Secretary Rice.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: And could you tell a little bit about his visit, what is the agenda? And also after General Ralston yesterday's visit to Turkey, what is the latest situation about combating PKK terror organization in northern Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have to tell you, I don't have a read -- a full readout of General Ralston's activities. Clearly, the fact that he is there and you have somebody of his stature working this issue is indication of how seriously we take it. He's working with the Iraqis, working with a Turkish counterpart, a retired general. But I don't have a readout on all of his activities right now.
As for the Foreign Minister, we're a little far out from the meeting right now to have a full list of what's on the agenda. But let me just put out there I'm sure they'll talk about Iraq. I'm sure they'll talk about this cross-border issue that's of concern to us as well as the Turkish Government, talk about Iran. I'm sure that will come up. And most likely Turkish-European relations.
QUESTION: And Cyprus?
MR. MCCORMACK: It could be.
QUESTION: Definitely. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros --
QUESTION: I have a question --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, hold on. Dave Gollust.
QUESTION: Well, I have asked whether the State Department had anything to say about the case of an Iranian dissident from the Azeri minority, a Mr. Abbas Lisani, who is on a -- apparently on a hunger strike and human rights groups have taken up this case.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, I do have something to say about that. The U.S. calls on the Iranian regime to cease the systematic oppression of its citizens, respect the human rights of all Iranian people and to release those arrested and imprisoned for insisting on their universal rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly, worship and fair labor standards. And that would include Mr. Lisani.
The regime has banned the Azeri language in schools, harassed Azeri activists, and unjustly jailed Azeris like Mr. Lisani for advocating for cultural and linguistic rights, Iranian Azeris who organized peaceful protests after the publication of an offensive cartoon in May 2006, were beaten, harassed and arrested.
We are deeply concerned by the regime's continuing repression of Iran's minority ethnic and religious groups, including Azeris, Kurds, Baha'i, ethnic Arabs, and others. The regime's repression affects religious minorities, students, women, labor unions, journalists, and academics. We are working with the international community, through the United Nations, foreign governments, and international nongovernmental organizations to focus attention on the Iranian regime to continued abuse of its own citizens and press for improvements in its dismal human rights record.
QUESTION: Also on Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: We've talked a little bit this week about how President Ahmadi-Nejad is falling out of favor because of the nuclear issue and the UN Security Council resolution and some of the economic policies. But there are some analysts in Iran that seem to think that this more confrontational approach by the United States against the Iranian regime could also -- could actually have the opposite effect in a sense that while Ahmadi-Nejad's behavior in Iran is causing a lot of consternation, it'll -- this aggressive stance by the United States could -- and fear that the U.S. is going to attack Iran could actually cause the leadership and the people to rally behind Ahmadi-Nejad. Do you think there's any merit to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm not an analyst of the Iranian political scene. I would just back up; you said that he's falling out of favor. I can't subscribe to that. I can tell you that it's quite obvious, if you read press reports coming out of Iran, that there is a -- more of a debate about the current course of this regime regarding the nuclear program and their behavior more generally in the international system.
Where that debate will lead, I can't tell you. The reasons why that debate has broken out, I can't tell you exactly. I would put it to you, however, that it is probably the result of the pressure that the international system is now placing on Iran because of its outlier behavior, especially on the nuclear program. Now in terms of -- and you also talked about the U.S.-Iranian confrontation. This is a problem between Iran and the rest of the world, not just the United States. So this is not a U.S.-Iran issue. I know there are some that would like to make it a U.S.-Iran issue.
We have sought to extend a very attractive offer to the Iranian regime with respect to their nuclear programs; suspend enrichment-related activity and you can realize negotiations with the EU-3, Russia, as well as the United States and Germany as well, breaking with 27 years of past diplomatic practice of the United States, yet they haven't taken us up on that offer. That's hardly confrontation on the part of the international system.
Now in the case of Iran working with networks inside Iraq, those working with networks that pose a danger to American soldiers, absolutely, we're going to confront those networks because they pose a direct threat to the lives of American soldiers. And we are going to take whatever steps in Iraq that we deem necessary in order to protect our forces. I think that any state would do that. So if that is a matter of confrontation, then of course, we are going to protect our forces.
But quite simply, Iran could erase any of those questions or any of those problems by simply not engaging in that kind of behavior. The whole point of our policies are to try to get Iran -- the Iranian regime to change its behavior. They are engaged in a set of behaviors that are clearly out -- beyond the lines that the international system have set in many regards; with respect to the nuclear program, with respect to their human rights record, with respect to their support for terrorism.
So Iran is quite clearly outside the bounds of acceptable behavior in many, many regards within the international system. The fact that you have a Chapter 7 resolution on Iran that passed 15-0, I think, is a clear indication that the international community has in the area of their nuclear program made that judgment. They are clearly outside the bounds of what is accepted international behavior.
From the Daily Press Briefing of Feb. 1, 2007:
QUESTION: Sean, what's your reaction to remarks by French President Chirac, which he subsequently sought to retract, that if Iran had a bomb or two it wouldn't be such a big deal?
MR. MCCORMACK: We talked a little bit about this in the morning in the gaggle. Look, I understand President Chirac has revised and extended his remarks. We take those remarks at face value and the fact that they represent the position of the French Government, we see eye to eye on the strategic objectives in not allowing Iran to obtain the technologies that would let them develop a nuclear weapon. We both understand, as well as the other members of the P-5+1, the Security, Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would be a terribly destabilizing event for the Middle East. We believe that, the French Government believes that and there's no daylight between the two of us on the issue.
QUESTION: But if you take seriously what he said the first time, the President of France doesn't believe that and one or two nuclear weapons would not be such a problem for him.
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, the French Government has officially revised and extended President Chirac's remarks and as I said this morning I think we all deserve a mulligan every now and then. So we are going to take his revised and extended remarks at face value.
QUESTION: Still on this, President Chirac didn't say that he didn't mean what he said. He said he thought he was on off-the-record.
MR. MCCORMACK: You are venturing into flagellum equus mortuus territory, Nicholas.
QUESTION: Wow. (Laughter.) My Latin isn't very good.
MR. MCCORMACK: We will rule out that moniker as you persist in these questions. But go ahead.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have -- I likely don't have anything more to say on the topic, but please proceed.
QUESTION: The point is, you know, the head of state of one of the EU-3, one of the Security Council permanent members, says something that is very serious. He's talking about a nuclear bomb that Iran is, as you say, trying to develop and that this would not be as big of a deal as everybody in the Security Council has said for years that it would. So yes, they said that he doesn't represent the French policy, but he's the head of state. I really don't understand how you can be comfortable with a revision of his statement, when he said something completely different to begin with.
MR. MCCORMACK: Nicholas, what the French Government has said is that his revised remarks represent their policy views and we take that at face value.
QUESTION: So you think that the President of France is isolated in the decision-making community of France?
MR. MCCORMACK: Anybody else have a question here?
QUESTION: I need to ask you about this incidence in Karbala. And military sources have said to Fox that now at least two senior Iraqi generals are suspected of involvement in this. Do you have any reaction to this?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have seen the news reports. I talked to the folks over at DOD. They emphasized to me that they are still in the middle of their investigation. They have not come to any conclusions. Yesterday it was the Iranians who were responsible for this. Today it was two Iraqi generals. I would advise everybody to step back, take a deep breath, let the investigation proceed. It's a serious matter. And this sort of speculation out in public doesn't help a serious investigation reach serious conclusions. And the families of those soldiers who died are owed that. So we're not going to get involved in any sort of speculation. And what we're going to do is we're going to wait for the investigation to be completed.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense of when this might come out? There seems to be mounting pressure for us to hear something.
MR. MCCORMACK: The investigators are going to take the time that they need in order to gather all the facts and reach what they believe are sound conclusions. I don't think anybody should try to rush them in that.
QUESTION: But hypothetically speaking if the Iraqi military was involved in this kind of thing, wouldn't this be absolutely explosive? I mean, the key components of this new strategy in Iraq is for the U.S. and the Iraqis to work very, very, closely together. That was a huge amount -- there should be a huge amount of trust between them. Wouldn't this be absolute -- wouldn't this just wreck the whole thing?
MR. MCCORMACK: I -- look, I appreciate your asking the question. I understand why you're asking it, but I'm just not going to venture into that territory.
QUESTION: It's kind of in advance of the Quartet tomorrow. There's been a lot of talk about this axis -- by the Secretary of this axis of moderates versus this kind of axis of extremists.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think she's used the word "axis."
QUESTION: Club, group, whatever. I don't remember what her --
QUESTION: -- exact terminology, but there's been a --
MR. MCCORMACK: He's the President, by the way.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) And this kind of group of moderates, you know, mainly is fighting this group of extremists, most importantly Iran. And you know, this group of moderates is including Israel and all of the Arab states. And I was just wondering if you think that this creates new opportunities for Israel in terms of relations with Arab states or do you think that Iran now is eclipsing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the region as like the main threat and the main problem to resolve?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, a couple things. One, trying to make progress on resolving the dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians is something in its own right that we have an interest in, that other states in the region have an interest in. This is a conflict that's gone on for decades and we have outlined our vision for how to resolve the dispute. It is a matter now of working with the parties, mobilizing the support of the international community and states in the region to try to exploit the opening that we believe exists in the region.
And by the way, we're not alone in that assessment. Other states in the region, others with an interest in seeing the dispute resolved peacefully agree that there is a moment here, that there is an opening that can be exploited. It is not a foregone conclusion that we will be able to make substantial progress. That will require the concerted efforts of the United States, other actors in the international system, and most importantly, the concerted effort by the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Secretary Rice has outlined how she envisions, at least in the near term, this process unfolding. It begins with the beginning of a discussion between the Israelis and the Palestinians, between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas about the political horizon. At the same time, you want to start working on those day-to-day issues on the Palestinian side, institution-building on the Israeli side, working with them to address some of the concerns the Palestinians have, the daily -- some of the daily irritants of Palestinian life, addressing issues of checkpoints, et cetera. That all has to be done within the context of making sure that anything that's done is properly accounted for on the security front.
As for the changed situation in the region, we believe that in the wake of the Hezbollah-Israel war, that there is the beginnings of a fundamental realignment of interest in the region. On one side, you have states that are committed -- states groups that are committed to the use of violent extremism to resolve political issues. Included in that group are Syria, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, as well as others.
On the other side of that line, you have states like Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia. You have leaders like President Abbas. You have leaders like Prime Minister Olmert. They share -- there is an interest among those leaders and those states in trying to resolve any political disputes via the negotiating table. They have an interest in seeing a stable, prosperous, peaceful Lebanon, a democratic Lebanon. There is an interest among those states in seeing a stable, prosperous Iraq as well as the emergence of a Palestinian state.
Now there's not unanimity of views among all of these states, absolutely, and the clear differences between the Israeli Government as well as the other Arab governments in the region are well-known. But there is, underlying this realignment of interests, a group being -- a group of states that have an interest in combating the rise of violent extremism in the region as well as working in support of those fledgling democracies that are struggling against the tide of violent extremism: Lebanon, Iraq, and the Palestinian areas.
QUESTION: Still on this, their (inaudible) been attempts in the past such as the Saudi initiative or proposal to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. President Musharraf has just been to Malaysia and talked about the fact that Muslim countries should be more active and perhaps try to find a solution. Have you sensed any activity among the other Arab countries or any recent desire to actually be at the forefront and not just have the United States and perhaps the obvious, Egypt and Jordan, to do that? And sort of is there in the region an effort or the seeds of an effort to do that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think you just look around at a lot of the press headlines over the past couple months. There was King Abdullah in Jordan, King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, President Mubarak as well as others who have been out in the front talking about the importance of trying to bridge the gaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians via the negotiating table. I think -- and they do have a real interest in that.
Secretary Rice in conversations over the past several months and in her travels to the region has explored the interest and dedication of those leaders, those countries in making a concerted effort to try to bring a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And what she found was that these leaders are dedicated to trying to find -- doing what they can to find a solution, to support any process that we might set in motion with the Israelis and the Palestinians. And Secretary Rice's assessment is that they are serious. And we have in a variety of different ways, public and private, seen that they have -- they are acting and demonstrating in real ways that desire and that will. Just one small example: The Government of Egypt is working very closely with the people around President Abbas and his security folks to try to strengthen Palestinian security forces and working on issues related to closing down smuggling that allows Hamas to try to bring in illicitly funds from the outside.
So there are a number of different examples, large and small, like that. And some you'll see, some you'll hear about, others you won't. But it is Secretary Rice's assessment that there is a real desire in the region to see what can be done.
QUESTION: Can you give us a readout on the coming visit of the Egyptian delegation, the Foreign Minister and --
QUESTION: Can we stay on the Middle East for a minute?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is the Middle East. But sure, if you have something that follows on directly there.
QUESTION: I've got something that follows on the previous answer.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, sure.
QUESTION: Excuse me. Can you talk about any of these examples that bear on Hamas and Fatah, bridging their differences, since everybody you're talking about is backing President Abbas and yet there are still Palestinians killing each other from different camps in the street every day.
MR. MCCORMACK: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has asked the leaders of the -- President Abbas and his leadership as well as the leadership of Hamas to come to Mecca to try to resolve the differences between Hamas and Fatah and getting at exactly the question that you raised, getting at the violence between the two groups. So there's another example.
There have been a number of other mediation efforts. Private envoys have been involved between the two Palestinian factions to try to resolve differences between them.
QUESTION: Why is this the time to pursue this given the violence that Charlie just talked about and that, you know, erupted again today with the Hamas government attacking a convoy, whatever it was carrying, whether it was weapons or tents that belong to the presidential guard. I mean, why is this a good time to try to push this when, on the Palestinian side, the policy differences have spilled out into gunfire that despite multiple ceasefire efforts comes back?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you don't like to see violence. You don't want see that, especially since innocent civilians inevitably get caught up in the crossfire and we've seen that. And it's a tragedy when you see innocent life lost in that sort of way.
You have in President Abbas somebody who is committed to peace, who is committed to seeking to resolve the issues between Israel and the Palestinians via the negotiating table. He has abjured the use of terror and violence and he is a person who officially is empowered by the Palestinian people under the -- as the head of the PLO executive committee, I believe, he is empowered to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people.
The violence is a manifestation of clear "political" differences. Now, we -- our views on Hamas are well-known. We view them as a terrorist organization, but what it -- it's a manifestation of the fundamental contradiction in the Palestinian political body.
You have on one side, President Abbas and Fatah, who are dedicated to living up to previous Palestinian agreements, trying to seek peace with Israel. You have, on the part of Hamas, a group that is trying to straddle a fault line. On one hand, they want to maintain their right to use terror and violence to achieve what they say are political ends. On the other hand, they want to participate in the political process. It's a fundamental contradiction that needs to be resolved by the Palestinians. They themselves have to do it.
Now as I said, you can't solve that for them. We can't solve it for them. The Israelis can't. The other Arab states can't solve it for them. So they will have to come to terms with that contradiction and what sort of pathway they want; down the pathway of terror and violence and the Hamas program, the Palestinian people aren't going to realize a Palestinian state. They're not going to realize Palestine. The other pathway, they have an opportunity for Palestine.
Secretary Rice's view is that while you have a partner for peace on the Palestinian side in the form of President Abbas and his administration, you should work with them on two fronts. One, work with them on -- to build up those Palestinian institutions that will eventually form the foundation of a Palestinian state regardless of what process -- by which process you achieve a Palestinian state, they are going to need governing institutions. That's true for any democracy. They need to be able to function, so you should start doing that now. And you have a process, you have a rough outline of how you do that with the roadmap.
The other front she believes it's important to move forward on, while -- again, while you have a partner for peace, is to start to discuss what we have referred to as the political horizon. And there's a whole collection of various issues between the Israelis and Palestinians under that rubric that needs to be resolved and addressed. They haven't talked about them for more than six years now, so start to have that conversation.
And she believes that the -- given the fact that you have a partner for peace in President Abbas and an alignment of forces within the region and an alignment of interest in the region, now is a time to exploit what we see as an opportunity.
QUESTION: The Quartet is going to discuss the three-way meeting with Prime Minister Olmert and --
MR. MCCORMACK: I expect they will, yeah.
QUESTION: -- Abbas. Is this meeting designed to agree on how far the Secretary can go along the roadmap or even if she can go outside the roadmap as we know it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look. What she's talking about -- and her effort is within the context of the roadmap. It is the steps that are outlined in the roadmap in terms of institution-building and the various responsibilities are useful. They're a useful guide and everybody has agreed upon the document: the Palestinians, the Israelis and the international system, the Quartet. So it is a useful guide and nobody's talking about going out -- moving outside of that context.
What she is saying is that there are -- again, this collection of issues that need to be resolved that are at the end of the roadmap. So her suggestion to the parties, which they -- well, not her suggestion; what emerged from her last trip, and it was really the suggestion of President Abbas, is that they at least have -- begin to have a discussion about those issues, open up a discussion about those issues to provide a political horizon. Prime Minister Olmert thought that was useful, President Abbas thought that was useful, Secretary Rice thought that was useful as well.
In terms of -- so it is an effort that grew out of her trip, her initiative. I would expect that she discusses it with the members of the Quartet. I'm not sure that she's seeking -- she's not seeking permission to do it. It is -- the parties involved have agreed to do it, but certainly, we would invite the support of the Quartet members as well as other members of the international system in that initiative. And she's going to talk to them about how to mobilize the members of the Quartet's support as well as others in the international community.
Yeah, we'll get back to you, Samir. Yeah.
QUESTION: But will the Quartet be discussing the concrete steps that Abbas and Olmert have to do; for example, a cessation of settlements? Will they be talking about that kind of thing? Will they be that specific?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that they'll get down to that level in this discussion. I would expect probably a more general discussion. I would expect that they probably will talk about the responsibilities that each side has, but probably not a detailed discussion that you might be referring to.
QUESTION: Can you give us a readout of the coming visit by the Egyptian delegation, Foreign Minister, and Chief of Intelligence? And are the Egyptian requesting to host the Secretary's meeting with Abbas and Olmert in Egypt?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. We haven't set a date or a venue yet for it, but I'm not aware that they are suggesting they serve a host. As we get closer to the meeting, Samir -- it's next week -- we'll try to get you a little bit more information, but I think there are some obvious issues dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and also the bilateral relationship between Egypt and the United States. There are a lot of issues there to talk about, so as we get closer, I'll try to get you more information on it.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Last week, you had urged the Egypt Government to consider releasing Ayman Nour --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- on medical grounds. Did they ever get back to you? Did they give you any sense if they have any interest in doing so?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you. I don't know that we've heard back from them. Secretary Rice did raise the issue of Ayman Nour in -- during her last visit with President Mubarak.
QUESTION: Also on Egypt?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: There's been this rash of videos coming out of Egyptian police torturing prisoners. And a lot of human rights groups are complaining that the United States isn't making the kind of issue about human rights that it used to, for instance, when Secretary Rice first took office and made her speech. And they're citing the fact that she didn't publicly mention any human rights concerns when she was in Egypt last time and they say that -- you know, stability and national security interests in the United States are taking precedence over human rights. Is that -- are those complaints fair?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think some people are maybe over-reading a bit. First of all, we believe the promotion of freedom, human rights, political and economic freedoms are in our national security. We believe that those two interests are fundamentally aligned.
Secretary Rice gave an important speech in Cairo in 2005. She stands by every word of it. And she will continue to speak out on the freedom agenda as the core of the United States foreign policy. President Bush laid that out in his second inaugural. That remains at the center of our foreign policy and our national security interests. She will continue to speak out in public about these issues during her visits while she's here in Washington, while she -- as she travels around the globe. She won't always speak about these issues in public. Sometimes she will raise them in private. Just because she is raising them in private doesn't mean that they're not at the fundamental to our foreign policy.
I just pointed out that she raised the issue of Ayman Nour during her last visit. She raised it with President Mubarak. Sometimes you have to make a choice as to whether or not you can be most effective at a given point in time by speaking out in public on an issue or raising it in private. That in no way diminishes our dedication to promotion of human rights and being at the forefront in pushing for freedom and democracy in the Middle East.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) diplomacy with respect to the torture videos?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, as Elise was mentioning, I have to confess that I am not fully briefed up on it, so I'm going to try to find out more information and see what it is that we're doing on that.