Middle East Digest: Feb. 5 - 9, 2007
Bureau of Public Affairs
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Iran, please. Have you seen these reports coming out of the Iranian news agencies saying that -- claiming that Iran will fulfill its nuclear ambitions by next week, February the 11th? What do you make of these reports?
MR. MCCORMACK: To fulfill -- well, I'm not quite clear as to what that means, but there have been a number of different reports that they're going to install more centrifuges at the Natanz facility and I can't tell you what the Iranian public relations rollout plan is for more centrifuges at Natanz. You have seen these press reports. I think the IAEA is going to have a report that's coming out in the next couple weeks that's going to tell the world exactly what the Iranians are up to there, what sort of activities they are conducting, whether or not they're expanding their efforts, how effective their efforts to enrich uranium have been at Natanz.
We're going to wait to see what that report has to say before we offer any detailed comment, but based on the press reports that we have seen thus far, it is very clear that Iran is headed off into another direction. It intends to isolate itself from the rest of the world. It continues to go -- be 180 degrees off from where the international system wants it to be. They want -- they seem to want isolation. The international system is extending its hand in terms of negotiation. They have yet to meet those conditions.
QUESTION: So you have total confidence in this IAEA report?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's a data point. They are on the ground there. They are observing the activities on the ground in Natanz. They have a variety of different means of monitoring the activities at Natanz. They are interacting with Iranian officials down there. Now, they probably are not getting the entire story because there are a lot of outstanding questions that have yet to be answered by the Iranians. I don't expect, given their behavior recently, that they are going to come through and fully disclose the answers to those questions. But it is a snapshot as to -- for the rest of the world as to what's going on at Natanz.
QUESTION: If I can just ask you about something about the gaggle on Friday, which was that Under Secretary Burns had referenced that the U.S. had made protests to the Iranian Government regarding shipments into Iraq. I was wondering if you had a chance to look into that.
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't. Let me check it out for you.
QUESTION: You say there's a report on Vienna that the United States is looking to cut about half of the 80 IAEA aid programs that involve Iran in one way or another. Is that something that's on the --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, these are some of the technical assistance programs that are part of what the IAEA has underway with various member-states, those states who were seeking peaceful nuclear energy when -- and frankly, we have a real issue with the idea that the -- an international organization, part of which we fund as well as other countries would be offering technical assistance on nuclear energy and the technologies associated with it while you have a country that is under Chapter 7 resolution precisely because the rest of the world doesn't trust their assurances that they are not seeking a nuclear weapon. So we think that there is a fundamental contradiction in allowing these programs to proceed and go forward as normal when the situation is far from normal. You have this country that has been cited by the IAEA Board of Governors and by the Security Council under Chapter 7 resolution. So yes, we have brought the -- we as well as others have brought this issue up at the IAEA.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have that case-by-case list for you, but our Ambassador on the ground is involved in talking to the IAEA about these programs. We just think any program that might possibly offer any sort of technical assistance to the Iranians in advancing their nuclear energy program that could possibly be put to other uses should not go forward.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, David.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) death of this Iranian nuclear scientist, Hassanpour?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I looked into it. I just don't have -- wasn't able to track down any information on it. Obviously, I've seen the news reports about it but couldn't find anything else one way or the other to substantiate these reports.
QUESTION: Do you have a date yet to announce for the trilateral meeting, the Israeli -- the three-way?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, Mr. Gul said that his agenda consist of measures to be taken against the Kurds to -- against the PKK and a possible cross-border operation. Are you going to let them invade northern Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: General -- there are a lot of tensions concerning the infiltration of PKK into Turkey. And the PKK have taken the lives of soldiers as well as innocent civilians on the Turkish side of the border. That's a real concern to us. It's a concern to the Turks. And General Ralston is working to decrease those tensions on both sides of the borders between the Iraqis and the Turks. Obviously, it's a very sensitive issue and we are engaging in diplomacy so that you don't end up with an armed confrontation in northern Iraq. I don't think anybody really wants to see that.
The PKK is a terrorist organization and we view it as such, we've classified it as such, so what we're trying to do is use our good offices and the good offices of General Ralston to see if there are ways to decrease the tensions on what is a serious issue.
QUESTION: Have you had any discussions with the Saudis in advance of their effort to broker an agreement between Hamas and Fatah? And do you have any wishes for that process?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we certainly applaud the efforts of King Abdullah to try to bring about a solution. These efforts are obviously welcomed by President Abbas and therefore we support the efforts. Whatever solution is worked out obviously needs to be acceptable to the Palestinians and most especially to President Abbas.
In terms of our contact with the Saudis, we're in frequent contact with them about -- whether it's Israeli-Palestinian issues or other issues in the region. I can't tell you specifically, Dave, whether or not we've talked to them on this issue.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the violence in Iraq over the weekend? Khalilzad is using the phrase "forces of evil." The White House is calling it a terrorist attack. Are you using the same kind of classification?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's clearly a terrorist attack. You have an explosion that was intended to cause maximum harm to innocent civilians who were doing their daily shopping at the market. There's no other way, I think, to classify it than to say that it is a brutal terrorist attack.
And we, of course, are going to work as closely as we can with the Iraqis to help bring security and some greater semblance of order to Baghdad. Ultimately, however, it is going to be the Iraqis that are going to have to address the very clear sectarian tensions that have led to some of these kinds of horrific episodes of violence like we have seen this past weekend.
From the Daily Press Briefing of Feb 6, 2007:
QUESTION: The three-way meeting with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas is going to be on February the 19th?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's scheduled for the 19th, indeed, it is. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Why couldn't you have told us that five minutes before the Prime Minister announced it?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, it's as a matter of courtesy, I think, the Prime Minister announced the date for the meeting. But yes, it is on the 19th. The Secretary looks forward to the meeting. I think we're still working out some of the modalities in terms of location, timing, et cetera, et cetera. But many of you will be there to report on the meeting and we look forward to briefing you in as much detail as we possibly can after the meeting.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything more about where else she will go on that trip, whether it would include the -- what are the typical visits to -- you know, the Palestinian territories and Jerusalem and so on or --
MR. MCCORMACK: There are a couple of other stops. I expect she probably will -- based on the schedule as we have it right now, which I caution you is not final, I would expect that she would probably make a stop in Ramallah and there will probably be a couple other stops as well. But again, in deference to those host countries, we're going to wait to work out all the final details before we give you a little bit more on the schedule. But we're more than a week out from the trip, so as we get closer, we'll have more details for you.
QUESTION: And you do expect the three-way meeting to occur in the region, not somewhere else --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: -- like Europe of --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: And on the three-way meeting, can you tell us what the Secretary hopes to get out of the three-way meeting?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll see what the results of the meeting will be. In terms of going into the meeting, our expectations are that this is an initial opportunity for these two leaders to start a discussion about those issues that would concern the framework of a possible Palestinian state. Again, each side will have various issues that they want to bring up. This is their first opportunity to discuss these in more than six years, so I would expect that would involve issues related to security, issues related to economic and trade, issues related to all the political questions that we know are out there with respect to borders, et cetera.
But again, the agenda is one that is being worked out. It'll be worked out in consultation with us as well as the Palestinians and the Israelis. And we would hope that this venue would be one that the Israelis and the Palestinians avail themselves of into the future as they work on the day to day issues, issues related to checkpoints, but also work on those issues related to a political horizon. Secretary Rice will continue to be involved at both of those levels, if you will, and when she feels that it is appropriate, when they feel it is appropriate, I would expect that you would see more of the tripartite format as opposed to just the Israelis and the Palestinians.
But I would expect the -- we would hope that the Israelis and Palestinians would take advantage of this particular forum. And ultimately, it comes down to the Israelis and the Palestinians working out the differences between them and coming to some form of agreement on issues from the most mundane up to the most politically sensitive.
QUESTION: Are you expecting this to be the beginning of shuttle diplomacy of the type of previous administrations? I mean, will this just be a one-day meeting or do you anticipate this could continue for several days?
MR. MCCORMACK: At the moment, it's scheduled for a one-day meeting, one portion of the day. As for what form Secretary Rice's involvement will take into the future, she's going to be making many visits to the region on a variety of issues including on this one. She has committed publicly to dedicating her focus and energies to trying to lay a foundation so that one day the Israelis and the Palestinians can realize the dream of having two states living side by side in peace and security. She will also in her travels to the region work to advance the Freedom Agenda. She will work on issues related to Lebanon, Iraq, as well as other issues that are in our national interest and of interest to our national security.
QUESTION: Just to follow-up on that, you talked about how you hope that they will avail themselves of this venue, this sort of tripartite venue. Do you expect that there will be additional meetings, if not at her level, but at some three-way level below her level to work on these issues?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that that's a detail that we'll have to work out. We'll see if -- see what the Israelis and the Palestinians believe is useful coming out of this meeting. They do have contacts at lower levels, working on issues related to security, issues related to, for instance, checkpoints and that transit across various checkpoints if they discuss issues related to the economy and trade. So they already do have contacts and I'll let them speak to the frequency and format of those contacts. It will be -- I think it will be in part up to them what they decide is useful. In terms of the level of contact and the format in which they have those contacts.
QUESTION: But the thing that's interesting to me is you -- I mean, you almost extended an open-ended invitation for them to, you know, take up this venue, this tripartite sort of mechanism and I wonder if you're hoping that they'll keep wanting to do that in a tripartite manner.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, when this initiative was first announced during Secretary Rice's last trip to the region, she talked about the fact that this could be the beginning of a forum where the Israelis and the Palestinians could raise with each other issues related to the political horizon and that she did not envision herself being at -- she didn't envision herself being at each and every potential meeting, that she would participate as she saw fit as well as the participants, as well. She certainly doesn't want to be an uninvited guest, but she is going to work to try to bring the parties together to at least start this discussion and we'll see what direction that discussion takes and what form that discussion takes.
QUESTION: Why can't you announce the date of this three-way meeting? Is it because you -- the two other parties didn't --
MR. MCCORMACK: We just did.
QUESTION: The Israelis did.
MR. MCCORMACK: The Israelis did. Yeah, the Israelis did.
MR. MCCORMACK: That's okay. We have to turn the sound up in here so Sylvie can hear.
QUESTION: Sean, does the fact that she's going to Ramallah mean that she's going to - does it mean that she's going to meet with both sides before Monday, before the meeting?
MR. MCCORMACK: I expect that she probably will.
QUESTION: So she'll go and prepare the way for --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. We'll have more details, but she'll have -- there will be a bilateral agenda with the Israelis and a bilateral agenda with the Palestinians as well.
MR. MCCORMACK: Kirit.
QUESTION: Just to talk about the expectations, it seems like you're sort of lowering the expectation that there'd be a giant headline or agreement out of the meeting.
MR. MCCORMACK: What? Me trying to lower expectations? (Laughter.) Heaven forbid.
We want to be realistic about this. The Secretary has talked about the fact that it is important to prepare each and every step along the way as we try to bring the parties together, because ultimately they're the ones that are going to have to come to an agreement at some point in the future, that she's not looking to impose some American-made plan that is not coordinated with both sides. They have to -- they're the ones that have to feel comfortable with the pace of the discussions as well as the ultimate outcome of the discussions.
So as I said, the Secretary is ready to dedicate her time and energy and focus to this issue, and we're going to take this one step at a time. But that does not mean in any way, shape or form that she is not going to be energetic in encouraging the sides to come together to come to some common understanding on those issues from top to bottom.
QUESTION: Sean, has the Secretary gotten a readout of the talks in Saudi Arabia? And --
MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Oh, you already talked about that?
QUESTION: No, I want to talk about the same thing we were talking about.
QUESTION: Just one last thing on expectations. Does the Secretary hope to see a Palestinian state by the time she leaves office?
MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie, she's talked about the fact that what she wants to do is she wants to lay a foundation where the Israelis and the Palestinians can come together and resolve all the differences between them from the most sensitive to the most -- to those daily issues of irritation to both sides, whether those are checkpoints or other types of issues.
That is her goal, and exactly how that process will look by the time she leaves office as Secretary of State, I can't say. I don't think she can say. We can't predict. But what she can say is that she is going to, with the support of President Bush, dedicate herself to doing everything she can to move forward that agenda of two states living side by side in peace and security.
QUESTION: Just one more. But you're not giving any consideration to the -- or she's not giving any consideration to naming a special envoy to work on these matters, is she?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I haven't heard any mention of that.
QUESTION: Can I ask my question now?
MR. MCCORMACK: You may.
QUESTION: Thanks. Has she gotten a readout of the talks in Saudi Arabia and how does --
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: How -- okay. So how does that mediation effort between Fatah and Hamas impact her trip and her peace effort?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly we appreciate, and I think all of the region appreciate, the good offices of King Abdullah in bringing together the Palestinian political factions to try to reduce the violence. I think everybody can applaud that effort.
And I understand that there is another agenda there, helping Hamas and Fatah come together to form a government of national unity, and we have spoken to that issue in the past, that any such government should be internationally acceptable based on the Quartet principles.
Well, we'll see. We'll see what comes out of these efforts. I don't have a read on them so I can't give you any update. You might check with the Saudis or the Palestinians.
But we do absolutely encourage all responsible parties in the region to make every effort they can to help bring down the level of violence in the Palestinian areas because ultimately it is the innocent civilians who get caught in the crossfire who pay the price for that violence.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up. How can she make progress on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking when you've got warfare in Gaza between the Palestinian factions?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, because -- just because you have a certain level of violence in the Palestinian areas doesn't mean that you should forego opportunities to try to advance the cause of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security, an Israel and a Palestine living side by side in peace and security.
It also doesn't mean that you should forego efforts to try to resolve issues related to security at checkpoints, security at border crossings. So she firmly believes that there are the underpinnings in the region that exist to make some progress, to exploit the -- exploit an opening, to try to bring the sides closer together.
There are challenges. Certainly, the challenge -- the Palestinians have a great challenge not only in reducing the level of violence but trying to resolve the fundamental political contradictions within their system. That is something that only they can do. Those on the outside can try to help them on both of those tasks -- reducing the violence and trying to resolve those contradictions -- but ultimately they're going to have to be the ones that make the hard choices.
QUESTION: Is the goal in this bringing the Turks to this conference to go for more of a regional type of outcome, in other words, working with the Palestinian-Israeli section and perhaps even the Lebanese between Christian and bolstering the Siniora government to get the Turks possibly involved with that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Are you talking about the Saudi meeting, Joel?
MR. MCCORMACK: The one in Mecca?
QUESTION: Is the goal to enlarge that to really hit both locations at the same time --
MR. MCCORMACK: Joel, you'll have to talk to the Saudi Government about exactly what their aspirations were in calling for this meeting. Certainly they have in public talked about the fact that this has two specific purposes: one, to get at a solution to reducing the violence in the Palestinian areas; and the second is to try to help the Palestinians form a government of national unity. As for any other interests they may have in calling the meeting, you'd have to talk to them
We, of course, understand their interests as well the interests of others in the region in trying to support the Siniora government as it struggles against forces of opposition within Lebanon that are trying to undermine the Lebanese desire for a more stable, democratic, peaceful Lebanon.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah. May I ask on Turkey?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll come back to you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: When you go into this meeting are you going in with a fixed agenda to come up with a framework of what a Palestinian state could look like? I mean, are you going in with a very fixed agenda to the meeting? You've been canvassing various Arab states and the Quartet has been looking at it. I just wondered how you would start off the meeting.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that is going to be in large part, dictated by what agenda items the Palestinians and the Israelis wanted to bring up. We will of course, make suggestions and we're working with both sides on preparations for the meeting. We want it of course to be a good useful meeting for both sides as well as for us. I don't -- I'm not aware that there's a set agenda at this point. That is in the course being developed right now. So as we get closer I expect that we'll talk about it. I expect the Israelis and the Palestinians will talk about it as well.
QUESTION: Do you expect, Sean, David Welch to go out to the region before the Secretary gets there??
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't talked to him about his travel plans. He has done that very often. There are other times when he's traveled out with the Secretary. I think it will depend on the circumstances.
QUESTION: A response to this work that's begun today in the -- around the Mosque -- Al Aqsa Mosque, Temple Mount area in Jerusalem which has created some protests from Jordan and some other states as well.
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to look into it. I'm afraid I'm not aware of the issues. We'll get some details for you afterwards, see what we can find out.
QUESTION: Switching topics. To Iraq, I wanted to ask you about this new Iraq Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Task Force you announced last night. You know, I saw the release. What prompted a task force to be formed or -- I mean, is there growing concern in this Department about a crisis brewing or what is it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the security situation in Iraq has by public reports as well as private estimates led to not only Iraqis leaving Iraq, but also Iraqis within the country being displaced as well and that's of concern to us. I have to point out that as a starting point, there already were substantial numbers of Iraqi refugees in neighboring states who left because of the oppression under Saddam Hussein, so there already were a number of -- there already were a number there. But on top of that number, there were many others who, because of the security situation in Iraq, have decided to leave. And what the Secretary wanted to do in forming this task force is underline the fact that we are going to try to address this issue as best we can on a number of different fronts.
One, we want to immediately work with the UN Commissioner for -- UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide the humanitarian support that is needed for those individuals who have left Iraq and who are resident in neighboring countries. We want to work closely with them on their processes for identifying those people who may be at -- in danger of continuing risk if they return to their home country, therefore being classified as refugees.
Third, we want to take a look at, for those individuals who are classified as refugees, what can the United States do to do its share to take in those individuals from Iraq and from the region who are classified as refugees.
Now this gets into a complicated system of -- you know, overall numbers and quotas for various reasons, but the total overall number -- excuse me -- of refugees for the current year that we are mandated to allow in by Congress is 70,000. And that number is then allocated by regions. There is also, in that, within that number, about 20,000 slots that are not allocated to a specific region. So the folks in the task force are going to take a look at what refugee slots we could possibly allocate to those Iraqis who are classified as refugees so that we could take them in. That is work that needs to be done. You have to look at not only the slots, but also match that up against the funding that we've received from Congress.
The fourth part to this is to take a look at what the United States Government and, primarily, in this case, the State Department and related agencies can do vis-à-vis those Iraqis who have worked with us, who, because of that work with us, may face some continuing threat if they remained in Iraq. And again, the Department of Defense has a limited program in this regard, so we are taking a look at whether or not some similar program, although perhaps not exactly like the DOD program, but some similar program might be instituted for those who work with the State Department and related agencies.
QUESTION: So two things, the 70,000 number, what is that number again?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's the overall number -- every single year -- this is basically based on money.
QUESTION: Oh, right.
MR. MCCORMACK: And every single year, Congress mandates or allocates a certain amount of funding for resettling refugees in the United States. Costs -- you have costs of not only processing, but doing the appropriate background checks, then getting people from one place in the United States and then helping them out, once they're here, get resettled, so this all is tied to budgetary numbers. So the number -- it's about 70,000 that we were allocated for this year. And --
QUESTION: This fiscal year?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I think it goes by fiscal year, Arshad. I'll double-check that, but I believe it's by fiscal year. And then there's a sort of rough quota system that's broken -- the world's broken down into various regions that roughly approximate the bureaucratic breakdown we have in the State Department. And different number -- you have, for each of the regions, different quotas and that's based on past experience as well as current needs.
Within that -- so you have -- you're at 50,000 that are clearly identified within the 70,000, then you have 20,000 that are not, at this point, identified or associated with a specific region. And so we're going to take a look at what numbers we can allocate for potential Iraqi refugees not only from the existing Middle East quota number, but if there is a need to try to access some of that 20,000 as well.
QUESTION: Okay. And the other question I had was, in terms of personnel having to process -- I guess, what is it taking, you know, for our embassies in the region that are maybe having to deal with the refugee problem? Is it a strain on the resources at all of U.S. State Department personnel having to deal with the refugees?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, because there is a well established system in which we work with the UNHCR as well as NGOs that participate in this process. It's a well established process in which various international organization states and NGOs play a role. Now, one of the concerns is that these refugees in surrounding countries will place a strain on the infrastructures in those countries. Now, that's of course a concern to the individual countries as well as to us. So we want to work with UNHCR to see what we can do as well as others to address the real humanitarian needs that exist.
QUESTION: About Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Can we stay on this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. We'll go with Afghanistan -- Turkey and then Afghanistan and we'll stay with this.
QUESTION: Can we have some kind of update about the status of this investigation into this Iranian diplomat?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let's stay with this.
QUESTION: First of all, what is the number associated with the NEA region of the 50,000? Do you know (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have it in front of me.
QUESTION: Can you get it for us?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. It's easy to get. It's a publicly available figure.
QUESTION: Second, do you know what is the number and I believe it came out in congressional testimony recently and I think it was about 200, but I'm not certain. What is the number of Iraqi citizens or Iraqi refugees who came to the United States last year? Was it just 200?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's a low number. I believe it is in the hundreds, but we'll get both of those. They're publicly available.
QUESTION: And do you feel like you're doing your share? I mean, this was the standard that you set to see if the United States can do its share. Are you doing your share, do you think, or not and that's why you've set up this commission to see if you can do more?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. We want to try to answer that question for ourselves. There is a need. Clearly, there is a need that exists and there are problems that need to be addressed. And we want to take a look to see if what we are doing currently is appropriate to the need as well as to answering the question: Is this -- are we doing what we should be doing?
QUESTION: I have one last one on this. Do you feel that the United States has a special obligation to try to address this problem given that, without ascribing direct causality, it is presumably the U.S.-led invasion and subsequent events that have led to this enormous refugee influx into neighboring countries? Do you feel like you have a special responsibility or not?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's a shared global responsibility based on the humanitarian principles outlined in the UN charter. I would point out to you that a substantial number, if not the majority of the Iraqis who are currently outside of Iraq, who could potentially be classified as refugees, were outside of Iraq because of Saddam Hussein, because of the oppression -- the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein. So this is not an issue that originated with the liberation of Iraq. And then the subsequent deterioration in the security situation in Iraq. So it is -- it has been an issue of ongoing concern for some time. But as I said, we want to do what is appropriate, what is right under our obligations under the UN charter and providing our fair share of relief for those individuals who have been classified as refugees.
QUESTION: On the number -- another question. I don't know if you have it. If you have, I'd love to have it, but if not, could you get for us the number of Iraqis and presumably their family members who have worked for the State Department and related agencies who might be candidates?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. That's one of the things we're working to identify, Charlie. I don't think that we have a good estimate of that at this point.
QUESTION: And on this, Sean, would these people who work or have worked for the State Department would they be classified as refugees and will they have to go under that --
MR. MCCORMACK: It would be -- yeah, because you get into -- well, it gets into their specific situation and this quickly becomes very -- a complex issue. The basic breakdown is if somebody is outside of the borders of Iraq then they are potentially classified as a refugee. If they're inside of Iraq they're an internally displaced person. So it's a question that you can really only answer based on the specific circumstances of an individual. It's not one you can answer --
QUESTION: So there isn't a blanket way to classify these people in terms of legally bringing them into the country because they are not refugees, then they have to be some sort of permanent resident?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, you're getting into the details of what may be a solution. Again, we're -- I caution you -- we're not there yet. We're trying to look at the problem to see what it is that we can do and what we should do.
QUESTION: Is the basic idea, without getting into details, is the basic idea of that program to give preferences to Iraqi citizens who may have worked for the U.S. Government in Iraq to come to the United States? Is that the basic idea?
MR. MCCORMACK: There exists a DOD program which I think has been well reported that gives some preference -- immigrant visa preference to individuals who have met a certain set of conditions working for the Department of Defense, working for the military I think primarily as translators. We want to as a State Department look at that program, look at the potential need that exists in Iraq for those people who have worked with the United States Government and to see if there is a potential similar solution by which we can make an offer to those who have worked with us. Again -- and that is the task that has been assigned. I'm not going to try to prejudge what the outcome of that discussion might be. It is a topic that we're looking at.
QUESTION: To make an offer, Sean, to reside here or to work for the government once they come here?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, the DOD program is based on, I believe, a type of special immigrant visa. So it is allowing people to immigrate to the United States based on meeting a certain set of conditions, most important of which is some length of service working for the United States Government -- specifically in this case working for the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: What about Iraqis who have worked for U.S. contractors who have been spending, you know, this $20-odd billion reconstruction funds? Would they also be covered?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sue, you're getting way head of the task. I've tried to outline for you specifically what the question is and I'm not going to try to prejudge a particular outcome.
QUESTION: Is there anything you can do in the short term to try to stem the outflow of Iraqi civilians, you know, not just ones that worked for the U.S. Government, but ordinary Iraqis that are trying to get out of the country? Is there anything you can do in the short term to stop that or to try to stop it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, each individual is going to have their own individual reasons for deciding either to move or to try to leave the country. Certainly we understand that the security situation in Baghdad as well as other places is responsible in part for people either moving within the country or trying to leave the country. So ultimately, the solution for Iraq is a more stable security situation in which people see the opportunities to make a better life for themselves inside Iraq and to be able to live wherever they may choose, whether that's in Baghdad or other parts of the country. In the short term, we are working with the Iraqis as well as international NGOs to try to help out those who may have been internally displaced within Iraq, we have programs to try to address those needs and those issues.
QUESTION: It's on Secretary Rice's meeting with Abdullah Gul. I understand they talked about PKK and Armenian genocide bill. Can you give me any details about their discussion on PKK, especially the ways to eliminate PKK in northern Iraq? Did they discuss that? And did they also discuss Armenian genocide bill that is supposed to be discussed at the Congress in March?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, they had a private discussion, a one-on-one meeting that was just the two of them. They may have had one or two other aides present. Then they had the discussion at lunch. I was present for the discussion at lunch. Let me go down the list of topics that they discussed at lunch.
They talked about Lebanon. They talked Iraq as well as the PKK issue. They talked about Turkish-EU relations. They talked about Kosovo. And Foreign Minister Gul also did bring up the discussion within the U.S. Congress about a possible Armenian -- a bill focused on the events in 1915.
In terms of the discussions within the U.S. Congress, look, we understand very clearly that this is a sensitive issue not only for the Turkish people but for the Armenian people. We have made our views known on the potential for a resolution or for a bill. I have talked about in the past. You can look back at the transcript at what I've said.
In terms of the PKK, I think that everybody is in agreement that we want to try to resolve this issue. Innocent Turkish citizens have lost their lives as a result of terrorist acts of the PKK. I think Turkey as well as Iraq have -- both have an interest in trying to resolve the issue. We have appointed General Ralston as a special envoy to work with both sides. Secretary Rice talked with Foreign Minister Gul about where the situation stands now, what General Ralston has been doing. And we have made it clear, obviously, we do not want to see a resort to greater -- any greater violence. Everybody believes in the territorial integrity of Iraq -- Turkey, Iraq, the United States -- so we want to try to work on this issue in such a way that is acceptable to two sovereign states. And we're doing what we can to help them come together to solve what is a tough problem.
QUESTION: Any response to the Japanese Foreign Minister's comments the other day about U.S. Iraq policy and has there been any communication with the Japanese Government either before his comments or after his comments?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have to admit I didn't -- I'll have to come up to speed on his comments. We'll take a look at what exactly was said. We'll post an answer for you guys.
Yes. Any new topics? Samir.
QUESTION: You said they discussed Lebanon. Can you say anything about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Turkish Government has endeavored to play a positive role in trying to bring a more stable, secure situation to Lebanon. The Turkish Government has played a positive role in working with Prime Minister Siniora to see if there is a mechanism or a formula by which the political crisis in Lebanon can be resolved by the parties in Lebanon. It was just a discussion of the Turkish efforts in that regard.
QUESTION: On the friendly fire incident, has the United States now given permission for the full transcript and for the video to be aired publicly?
MR. MCCORMACK: Check with DOD. This is something that was handled through military-to-military channels.
QUESTION: So there hasn't been any diplomatic discussion over this?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you whether or not we served as a pass-through, but it's a -- it's a mil-to-mil discussion. My understanding is that the investigation on our side had been completed, the investigation on the UK side had been completed. From the military's perspective, they had another step that they had to go through in terms of a civilian investigation, and that is where the question arose whether or not the tape could be released to the civilian investigation and whether or not it could be released to the public. That decision is one that is going to be made on our side over at the Department of Defense.
I think if you look at the transcript of what was said, everybody understands that this was just a terrible, terrible accident. It took place on the battlefield in the fog of -- in the fog of battle. And everybody -- you can hear -- just look at the words, read the words. You can almost hear the horror and regret on the part of the pilots. So I think that the -- as far as I am aware, the Department of Defense has concluded that this was a terrible, terrible accident.
QUESTION: Do you have something on these Iranian diplomats? The status of the investigations --
MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen the news reports. I know the Iraqis are looking into it, trying to track down the ground truth. At this point, I don't have anything more for you.
QUESTION: Can you acknowledge that he was -- he disappeared?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I have seen -- all the -- the extent of my knowledge on this at this point stops at the news reports. We're trying to get the facts, get the ground truth for you guys. And as soon as we are able to determine that, I'll be happy to share with you what we know.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Iran.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Iranian Ambassador has accused the U.S. of being behind it. Can you at least deny that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Behind --
QUESTION: Behind the kidnapping of their diplomat.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, I can't confirm the specific act, but I would know of nothing that would substantiate that view at this point.
From the Daily Press Briefing of Feb 7, 2007:
QUESTION: Did you get a chance to see the Japanese Foreign Minister's comments calling the U.S. Iraq policy immature?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, I still have not looked at those. I have to take a look at them, sorry.
QUESTION: I have a question on Turkey.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. Gul said yesterday that the Armenia bill represent a serious threat to the relation with the United States. Actually, he said, "An acceptance of this Armenia bill will have a serious effect on the relation between United States and Turkey." Do you agree with him?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's his assessment. We take him at his word. We understand the sensitivities in Turkey. We also understand the sensitivities in other communities in the U.S. and other places around the world. We are talking to the Congress about this. I think Foreign Minister Gul and the Turkish Government is well aware of our system of government and they understand that Congress is an independent branch. We are, however, in close contact with members of Congress on the issue and we have conveyed to them the sensitivities expressed to us by the Turkish Government concerning this particular resolution.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: The Secretary welcomed this morning the proposal of Mr. Lantos to -- for a new law to allow the U.S. to participate in this international bank for nuclear fuel. Did you -- what kind of contribution the U.S. could do to this bank and --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm playing catch-up on this one, Sylvie. We'll have to get you an answer. Yeah, I'll get you an answer.
QUESTION: Something else that Rice was questioned on today, Iran, and there was some discussion that the Iranians were prepared to recognize Israel or this idea was being floated.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I think she addressed it pretty clearly. She said that if either somebody had told her that the Iranians were proposing that or some -- or she had read that in some of the papers that flowed into her office, she would have remembered. And she doesn't remember any such thing.
QUESTION: But she was also asked about the dossier, which she didn't answer. A Democrat congressman wanted to know what had happened to this dossier. Is there anything you can update us on this? I mean, is it now just -- you know, on the backburner because you haven't got the evidence?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. You know, I was trying to tell you guys for the past week about this; that is, we're going to do this on our own timeline. We're going to do it in such a way that the presentation is clear, that it is factual, that it is to the point. But more importantly, we're going to do it in such a way that does not inhibit our ability to collect further such information in the future. Basically, you don't want to burn your sources and methods.
So all of those things considered, we are taking our time in putting this together. I'm sure that at some point, at a time of -- at a time that everybody is comfortable with, we will put it out there. But it's not for lack of a rich fact base. It is -- has more to do with all the considerations that I've just outlined.
QUESTION: Have you seen a draft of it yet?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen it yet, no.
QUESTION: Do you know why some people are doubting your -- the real explanations? Don't you think the risk to -- not to be taken seriously, not --
MR. MCCORMACK: We're not worried about that. We're not worried about that. There are always going to be people, doubters, critics, skeptics. That's fine. We accept that. But just because some people may be holding their breath here and pounding their fists on the table, it's not going to influence us in hurrying through something that we don't think is ready or appropriate to do at this time.
All right, thanks a lot, guys.
QUESTION: One more.
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh --
QUESTION: Sorry about that.
MR. MCCORMACK: A late breaker, okay, yeah.
QUESTION: As you know, President Musharraf visited Ankara yesterday and he and Prime Minister Erdogan have agreed on new initiative for Israel-Palestine conflict. My question is about that. What is the United States stance on this issue? Does the U.S. support these new efforts?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I understand it, President Musharraf has made some recent trips around the globe to Arab Muslim states and some non-Arab Muslim states to talk about a couple of the different issues. One, to -- how they can band together to address the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and two, also how to, in some way, address the divide within the Muslim community between the Sunni and Shia.
And at this point, I'd say that we want to learn more about the details of their initiative. As a general comment, any initiatives by responsible parties such as Pakistan or Indonesia or Egypt or Turkey in trying to tackle some of these tough issues in a responsible way are welcome. But I'm going to defer any specific comment until we have a better understanding of what it is that is being proposed. As I understand it now, it's still taking shape.
QUESTION: Lavrov is in Tehran again. Do you see this as any indication that Russia is exerting more pressure ahead of this IAEA report?
MR. MCCORMACK: The Russians have played a positive role in trying to convince the Iranians to be responsible actors. Unfortunately, thus far the Iranians have refused to heed the advice of Russia. Secretary Rice had good conversations with the Foreign Minister about Iran and I think we have a clear idea of where the Russians stand vis-à-vis Iran. We're going to be talking to them as well as others in the run-up to this report from Director General ElBaradei and the deadline that comes up, I think on the 21st, that's in the UN Security Council resolution about what we might do next.
But they are playing a responsible role in trying to convince the Iranians to come around and accept the offer that's been laid out there for them.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense that the Russian position has changed or is changing?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. I think that we all share the same objective. There have been differences over tactics and how hard to push and how fast, but we have worked through those. We got a 15-0 vote. So we're going to continue standing shoulder to shoulder on this, and when we have differences over tactics we'll work them out.
From the Daily Press Briefing of Feb 8, 2007:
QUESTION: Do you have any information on whether and how this agreement announced in Mecca might address the Quartet principles issue?
MR. CASEY: Well, I don't -- my understanding, and I don't think we've gotten a full readout on it, is that the parties at this point have agreed to continue their discussions and to do so -- they've committed to do so until they've got a formal detailed agreement arranged.
In terms of what the outcome of those discussions look like and whether they meet the Quartet principles, I think we'll just have to see. Clearly though, those principles are pretty straightforward, and as we've always said, we think they're very reasonable ones. The international community has made it clear that in order to be able to have a broader relationship with the Palestinian Authority government that those principles are going to have to be met. So we'll see what any final agreement actually looks like and we'll have to make an evaluation from there.
QUESTION: Are there any U.S. observers in Mecca at this?
MR. CASEY: Not that I'm aware of. I'm sure that our Embassy in Saudi Arabia is keeping in contact with Saudi officials and certainly there are discussions between folks in this building here and Saudi authorities as well. But I'm not aware that there's any U.S. involvement in that.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate at all on -- Secretary Rice said in her testimony today that she had specifically authorized your chargé in Damascus to talk to the Syrian Government about the question of Iraqi refugees flowing into Syria. Can you give us any more information on whether the chargé has indeed had any conversations about this? And also, is the chargé barred from talking to the Syrian Government about anything without her specific explicit authorization?
MR. CASEY: Well, Arshad, we do have, and as she said in her testimony, we do have an embassy in Damascus. They do have regular conversations with various levels of the Syrian Government. What she and I what I understood her point to be in testimony today though was that this was something of a new issue. Obviously, we have just announced that we have formed a task force that Under Secretary Dobriansky will be heading up or is heading up to look at the question of Iraqi refugees and of how to deal with the many concerns that people have about it. So I think all she intended by that was to simply say that this was a new issue and she had specifically instructed him to discuss those issues with the Syrian Government.
I honestly don't have any details in terms of what conversations may have actually taken place yet or not, but certainly we'll try and keep you up to date on our thoughts on this issue and then on efforts that the task force is making to deal with those concerns.
QUESTION: And two follow-ups. Does the chargé require explicit authorization to hold conversations with the Syrian Government about -- with the Syrian Government on matters of substance?
MR. CASEY: I am not sure what specific details he may have in his instructions, but he's there in country, our diplomatic -- our embassy is there. My understanding is they have daily conversations on a variety of issues. Again, I don't think that this is something where he can't pick up the phone and call somebody without having specific approval in Washington.
QUESTION: And why do you regard this as a new issue, because it's my impression that there have been Iraqi refugee flows into neighboring countries for months, at least?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think as you've heard from other people, and I know Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey has testified on this, there have been significant numbers of Iraqi refugees in Syria and in Jordan for some time, including significant numbers before the war began in 2003. I think the new aspect of it here, again, is the fact that because of the concerns that we have on this issue, we have in fact gone ahead, formed this task force and want to look at what more we can do beyond our existing efforts to respond to a very legitimate concern and the needs of the Iraqi citizens who are there as refugees. And so I believe that this was an initiative related to the formation of the task force and this new effort on our part.
QUESTION: Do you have a day next week when -- do you have a time, date, wherever, where she's meeting with the --
QUESTION: Can I just follow up with this real quick? I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Can you give us a sense of when --
MR. CASEY: You two can fight it out, if you want, but go ahead.
QUESTION: -- when they talked with the Syrians about this, do you know?
MR. CASEY: No. As I just said to Arshad, I don't have any details on the conversations.
QUESTION: You don't even know if they have yet talked?
MR. CASEY: I'm not sure. I'm assuming they have, but I don't know, Arshad. We can try and see if we've got any more details to provide for you later on this.
QUESTION: I was just looking --
MR. CASEY: Yes, sorry, Libby.
QUESTION: -- to see when she might be meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She mentioned today and yesterday that she'd be meeting next week. But do you have a day?
MR. CASEY: I don't the specific schedule. I think it is either Wednesday or Thursday, but I think tomorrow we'll probably have some more information for you about that.
QUESTION: Okay. Great. Thanks.
MR. CASEY: Yes, Joel.
QUESTION: Tom, in any way are you talking with a group here in Washington, Refugees International, headed by Kevin Bacon? And also in talking regionally, you've just spoken with the Saudis and I would assume, too, the Jordanians. You don't want to broaden that split or conflict with both Shia and Sunni, spreading into other locales. Is there some orderly way that you're working either with the Syrians and/or the Jordanians to learn specifically how that would take place?
MR. CASEY: Well, Joel, in terms of various refugee NGOs, I think you can check with our Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. I know they have regular conversations with any number of NGO actors out there. They would be able to tell you specifically when they might have had conversations with that group.
In terms of the refugee question, again, there have been significant refugee populations in both Jordan and Syria of Iraqis for some time. We do have a standard process that we go through in terms of supporting the UN and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in their efforts to look at individual cases, determine who might be appropriate for third country resettlement and then move them on to the U.S. in cases where they believe that's the most appropriate place for them to go.
But what we're looking at with this task force is several issues that both touch on that specific question as well as others that have been raised here. And again, that includes not only looking at what we can do to help with the basic humanitarian situation of these individuals, it includes helping the UN to better perform its duties out there. It includes looking at refugee numbers and admissions -- potential admissions to the United States. And of course, it also includes as we mentioned earlier, looking at the issue of some similar program perhaps to the one that already exists and was created by Congress for translators and interpreters for the U.S. military and see whether there might be some application of that to the State Department and affiliated agencies as well.
Yes, let's go over here.
QUESTION: Some clashes today on the Israeli-Lebanon border between the Lebanese army and Israeli forces. Any details, any comment on that?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think there are conflicting reports as to what exactly happened. But certainly, we are concerned by these and we think it is very important that as people move forward with the implementation both of the agreement between Israel and Lebanon, as well as the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions related to this, that there be arrangements put in place by the parties to make sure that when there are operations along the border area, that people understand what's going on and that certainly, any kinds of incidents or provocations can be avoided.
As far as we know, this is an isolated incident and certainly, we want to make sure that everything is done to prevent any kind of violence or any kinds of problems from occurring along the border.
QUESTION: Anything about the discussion with former Lebanese President Gemayel? He is meeting with President Bush today.
MR. CASEY: Well, for the discussions over at the White House, I'd refer you over to my colleagues over there and they can talk to you about that meeting. The Secretary is, as you probably know, meeting with him as well later this afternoon. I'm sure they will have an opportunity to discuss the general situation in Lebanon and look at a number of bilateral issues. Certainly we're strongly committed to helping the Lebanese Government and helping the Lebanese people in terms of reconstruction and efforts to rebuild the country after the war this summer. And as you know, we are strong supporters of the government of Prime Minister Siniora and want to see his government be able to move forward and help build on the promises he's made to the Lebanese people.
QUESTION: What's on her agenda, the Secretary's agenda, when she meets with him today?
MR. CASEY: Again, I expect they'll discuss the general situation in Lebanon and a number of bilateral concerns, but I think that's the extent of it. He's a former president. He's an important figure in the history of the country. But of course, he's not a member of the current cabinet.
QUESTION: And just as a related note, do you have any assessment of the degree to which Hezbollah is being rearmed by Syria?
MR. CASEY: No, I don't really have anything I could offer you in terms of anything new beyond the estimates you've already seen from people.
QUESTION: The Israeli -- we call him public security, I think you refer to him as internal security minister -- Mr. Dichter, who the Secretary is going to meet this afternoon, this morning accused Egypt of not doing enough to stop arms smuggling across its border into Gaza. Did that topic come up yesterday during the -- I guess three things. One, do you have reason to believe that that is true, that there is arms smuggling that Egypt is failing -- signally failing to stop across its border? And two, did that topic come up yesterday during the Secretary's conversations with Foreign Minister Abu Gheit?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, in terms of the Secretary's meeting yesterday with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, I think they had a good discussion about both bilateral and regional concerns, including certainly the ongoing efforts that we and others are making, including the Egyptian Government, to help promote a two-state solution. I'm not aware as to whether that specific issue came up. I'm not sure that it would have, particularly since you're saying these comments were made this morning by the minister.
Certainly we believe it is important that all countries in the region do what they can, again, to promote a peaceful settlement of these issues. We certainly wouldn't want to see anything go on that either supports violence, terrorist violence of any kind, whether that's against other people in the Palestinian territories or against Israel. Egypt, as you know, has been a strong partner in terms of trying to support a two-state solution and certainly I'm not aware of any new information that would cause us to question their efforts in that regard.
From the Daily Press Briefing of Feb 9, 2007:
QUESTION: Has there been any effort this morning to organize a concerted review of the statement on the Palestinian unity government? Who's involved in that effort? Has the Secretary started talking to people involved and what happens next?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, there's a lot in there.
QUESTION: I just figured I'd kind of throw it all out there, dog's breakfast --
MR. MCCORMACK: Did you guys all collude on the fact that you would ask all the questions all in one?
QUESTION: No, no, actually.
MR. MCCORMACK: All right, let's back up.
QUESTION: There will be plenty of others.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, all right. Let's back up. Here's where we are. We understand that out of Mecca under the good offices of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that the various Palestinian factions got together, that they had come to agreement on a government of national unity.
Now, we as well as other members of the Quartet do not yet have all the details of either the program of this government of national unity or the composition. And in fact, I don't think -- I think that there's still some work to be done in that regard among the Palestinians. So you don't have all the details, important details.
So at this point, we can't offer a reaction beyond the fact that we remain committed to a two-state solution and the Palestinian people deserve a government that is committed to that goal and one that also is clearly committed to the principles outlined at the last meeting of the Quartet.
Beyond that, I can't offer any reaction. Obviously we along with other members of the Quartet are going to endeavor to get more details as they become available. I think the Palestinians are still working on some of those details.
In terms of actions that we have taken, obviously we're in contact with various people in the region at working levels. The Secretary did have a call of the Quartet this morning. They had a good discussion. At this point, I don't have any further details that I can offer you about that discussion. And I would expect that over the coming days that there will be more conversations between the Secretary and leaders in the region.
There's no change to her plans. We plan on leaving towards the end of next week for a trip to the Middle East. We'll fill you in on those details as we get closer. The meetings that we had talked about are still planned in terms of Secretary Rice, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas getting together, then I would expect there would be separate bilateral programs between Secretary Rice and Prime Minister Olmert, and Secretary Rice and President Abbas.
QUESTION: In that context, I imagine if there was anything particularly good to say about this agreement, you'd be saying it.
MR. MCCORMACK: You have to get the details. The details matter in this regard, both with respect to the composition and with respect to the platform. And as we have clearly said before, that we believe that the government should be clearly and credibly committed to the principles reiterated by the Quartet at its meeting last week in Washington and should be a partner in peace. Beyond that, I can't offer any more reaction because you don't have important details about the government. And as they become more clear, you can be assured that we as well as the members of the Quartet and others in the region will offer greater reaction.
QUESTION: So it means that you don't expect any collective reaction of the Quartet before these meetings scheduled on the (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't say that. What I said is, at this point, I don't have anything further to offer with respect to the Secretary's phone call. But if there is anything more that we have to offer coming out of that phone call, we'll keep you up to date in terms of statements, et cetera.
QUESTION: And why would the Quartet -- why was the call arranged? What were they --
MR. MCCORMACK: Because there was clearly some event that occurred yesterday in Mecca where you had the announcement of the formation of this government. Now as I said, there's still a lot of details that need to be worked out by the Palestinians and then made public and made available to us. We don't have those right now. So there is an effort to get together, assess what the situation was, and compare notes on what it is --
QUESTION: Share what people --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, exactly.
QUESTION: What each side knows -- okay.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, exactly.
QUESTION: The Hamas -- after this agreement, said that Mecca agreement -- doesn't mean they recognize Israel, but they didn't say it doesn't mean that we don't -- that we recognize the right of Israel to exist. Is there a difference for you? Is there a nuance between recognizing Israel and recognizing the right of Israel to exist?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, let's wait until we have all the facts, they have all the details. What we have said is that the Palestinians deserve a government that is clearly and credibly committed to the principles reiterated by the Quartet last week in Washington. You can go back and look at the Quartet statement. And that the Palestinian people deserve a government that is committed to the pathway of peace.
It's very clear that is the way that the Palestinian people will realize a Palestinian state, through the pathway to negotiation. There is, very clearly, a way forward. It's outlined in the roadmap. And we will see in the coming days and weeks whether or not this government of national unity is one that is clearly and credibly committed to those principles.
QUESTION: But in principle, do you make a difference? Do you -- is there a nuance between these two --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, I'm not going to try to do halftime analysis here.
QUESTION: It's not an analysis. It's judging what exactly you expect from the --
MR. MCCORMACK: It is. You're asking me what -- Sylvie, what you're -- no, what you're asking me to do is to give you a reaction based on an incomplete set of facts and I'm not going to do that.
QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no. I want to know in general what you expect from them.
MR. MCCORMACK: I have just said -- I have just --
QUESTION: Is it to recognize Israel like this or --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, I just said -- listen to what I said. What I said is that the Palestinian people deserve a government -- we believe that they deserve a government that is clearly and credibly one that adheres to the principles outlined in the last meeting of the Quartet in Washington. You can go back and look at what that statement said and it references earlier statements as well. That is still the basis on which -- or the prism through which, if you will, that the Quartet and we will make our assessment of the composition as well as the program of this proposed government of national unity.
QUESTION: Based on what you do know, is there any change to the way the United States would deal with Abbas going forward? Do you still consider him at the -- sort of the acceptable representative and the only one with whom you're willing to deal.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think the answer to that is the Secretary intends to go forward with her trip as well as her meetings.
QUESTION: Well, you're also looking at giving them $86 million.
MR. MCCORMACK: There's no changes in our policy.
QUESTION: Can I switch topics?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: This morning again, there's violence in Jerusalem with Muslims, following worship, perhaps barricading them up themselves in the al-Aqsa Mosque at Temple Mount.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: And because of these talks with the Saudis, do you view this in any way as trying to forestall the talks that you're going to have in Jerusalem with the Turkish Government as well as Israelis and President Abbas in the next week, week and a half?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not ascribing any political connection to what went on. Here's the situation, as we understand it. There were some excavations related to construction of a new walkway. From the Western Wall Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem to the site of the Temple Haram al-Sharif to ensure the safety of visitors. Now, we have been in contact with the Government of Israel on this matter. They take it very seriously. And we urge all parties when they are considering and taking any actions with respect to excavations or any sort of construction activity near these sensitive religious sites to take into account that they are dealing with sensitive religious sites. And if, in fact, they do decide to proceed with those kinds of activities, that they carefully consider how those activities would be carried out. I understand the Government of Israel is also looking at how they can take into account some of the concerns that have been expressed about this particular construction activity.
In terms of the unrest that we saw recently after the Friday prayers, understand that there were some rock-throwers that came out, a small number of them. The Israeli police reacted in an effort to calm the situation and -- which is the appropriate response that people should take every effort to lower the temperatures on this and not let it get out of hand.
MR. MCCORMACK: Libby, you want to change the subject now? There you go.
QUESTION: I wanted to continue beating the dead horse on Iranian evidence? Just wondering what role has the Secretary played in the decision-making process as far as when to present the evidence on Iran? And you know, can you just give us some insight into her role in this as far as the Administration's presentation?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are people who are looking at the presentation, working through it, kind of making sure that this is -- that it's a clear, concise, to-the-point presentation that meets the requirements that we don't in any way jeopardize our sources and methods in making the presentation.
She offered general guidance on just those facts, to make sure that it's clear and make sure that it is something that is representative of the facts as we know them and that it doesn't endanger future activities with respect to going after these networks. I think early on she might have seen an initial draft of the presentation. I can't tell you that she's seen any of the subsequent drafts. She's not involved in those discussions. David Satterfield is our point guy really on that. He's the Secretary's Special Advisor on Iraq. So it's not something that she's looking at on a day-to-day basis or considering on a day-to-day basis.
I would expect that when the working level folks at the deputies level, the deputies committee level people, produce a presentation that they are comfortable with, I am sure that they'll share it with Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates and Steve Hadley over at the NSC just for review. So I would characterize her role as one of general review, not getting into the details of what is included in the presentation.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say after she saw the first draft she expressed some reservation about putting it out there?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think all of the principals did. Steve Hadley talked about the fact that he, Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates took a look at the presentation and decided that there was more work that needed to be done on it, and that's what's happened.
QUESTION: And what impact did the experience over Iraq have on that? And then I think there's got to be some obvious caution in presenting intelligence at this point. Is that --
MR. MCCORMACK: Any time you are making presentations based on intelligence information, you want to abide by a certain set of rules and you want to make sure that it's clear, that it reflects the facts as you know them, that it reflects the consensus analysis and that it doesn't endanger sources and methods. And that has been -- that's her view with respect to this presentation or any other one that you do involving intelligence information.
QUESTION: I have some questions on Iraqi Kurdistan. There seems to be a lot of anxiety in Kurdistan right now about the possibility of violence spilling over into their region. They haven't been really enthusiastic about the Peshmerga being deployed and this troop surge in Baghdad. They aren't very pleased about the U.S. support for renegotiating the 2005 constitution which they gained considerable autonomy in that constitution. They issued a totally blistering press release after the arrest of the Iranian agents in Irbil and they calculate that only about 3 percent of reconstruction funding, U.S. reconstruction funding, has been spent in Kurdistan.
So I guess my question is, you know, how concerned are you that the Kurds might be feeling that they're getting a raw deal here? And you know, have -- you know, have you been asked for any kind of assurances that their lives are going to be made -- not going to be made worse by this turn of events in Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they're Iraqis, so in large part the destiny of their country is, in part, in their hands. In terms of the ebbs and flows of the political happiness of political leadership in various parts of Iraq, that will, I am sure, be dependent upon how they're relating to their counterparts in other parts of Iraq, how they're doing in terms of the various political bargains that are underway in Iraq. So the answer to the question is it's in their hands; they can determine these things. It's not as --
QUESTION: They say they --
MR. MCCORMACK: We don't have a vote on the Iraqi budget. In terms of the Peshmerga deploying down to Baghdad, they've had a good turnout. The brigades are flowing south. You brought up some other issues. What were some of the other ones?
QUESTION: Irbil. But going back to the funding, I mean, that's -- I'm talking about U.S. reconstruction funding. I mean, in some ways because Kurdistan is thought to be so stable and so peaceful, I mean, they feel like they've been ignored in favor of maybe the U.S. trying to appease Sunnis who -- and get them into the political process by promising the renegotiation of the 2005 constitution? I mean, they say it's in their hands, but we've done it, we've brokered a constitution, and now a year later the U.S. is --
MR. MCCORMACK: The Iraqis came to an agreement that they were going to seek amendments to the constitution. That was an Iraqi understanding. It wasn't manufactured in the United States. Yes, we participated in the political process in the sense that we advised them, we pushed them together to make compromises. But at the end of the day, those were Iraqi compromises and they were Iraqi deals that were reached. So the consideration of amendments to the constitution was an Iraqi decision.
In terms of the reconstruction funding, we allocate the reconstruction funding where we believe that there is the greatest need. Now, in a sense, the north was a great beneficiary over a long period of time of about a decade or more of the international community's ability to keep Saddam Hussein from exercising the kind of influence that he exercised over the rest of Iraq with no-fly zones and other kinds of interactions with the international community. So they, in a sense, did have -- they already had an advantage over the course of ten years or more where they were able to build up some of their infrastructure, they were able to build up different kinds of industries in the north.
So in that sense, they have already benefited from a decade's worth of effort by the international community. There are other parts of Iraq that have great needs, and that's not to say that the United States or anybody else is going to ignore the needs as they exist in the north. But you have to make decisions based upon an analysis of where you think the money spent can have the most effect and where the greatest needs are.
QUESTION: Given that it is considered this success story, this oasis of stability and, you know, democratic institutions and civil society there, I mean, is -- are Kurdish leaders coming forward to talk to U.S. officials about how to preserve that success? Are they expressing anxiety that maybe it could be jeopardized by, you know, either inflows of refugees from the rest of Iraq or, you know, involvement of the Kurds in the sectarian fighting or, you know, involvement of neighbors like Turkey or Iran? Are they expressing anxiety to you guys about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm sure if you spoke to any politician in Iraq at this point that they would express a certain level of anxiety about any given topic that is of concern to them because this is a fledgling democracy that is struggling to build democratic institutions, functioning institutions that can serve their people.
I would just point out to you that the President of Iraq is a Kurd and he is a greatly respected figure throughout -- in the Iraqi political process. They seek out his counsel. They are well represented in senior positions throughout the Iraqi Government. So they have a real say in what the future of Iraq will be. But the future of Iraq will be dependent on how they work with the other groups within Iraq. They all have to work together.
QUESTION: The President of Iraq's son said this week that they are interested -- they are anxious about preserving the success that Kurdistan has and that, you know, he's trying to reach out to U.S. officials to see if maybe the U.S. can provide some assurances that things will not -- that the U.S. will be there if things go -- if that chaos tries to reach Kurdistan and that the U.S. will help preserve that success if the chaos tries to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Everybody has an interest in Iraq succeeding. The President wouldn't have put so much time into the review that he conducted and he wouldn't have devoted the resources that we are devoting if he didn't believe that we could make a difference and help the Iraqis succeed. So we have a great interest in seeing that Iraqis succeed. What the Iraqis need to understand is that if they are to succeed they will succeed together and that they have to collectively solve their problems. They're all in this together in the formation of this government, the Sunni, Shia, Kurd, and everybody else.
We have every interest in seeing that the kind of prosperity and stability that has been seen in the north Iraq is also present in other areas of Iraq, especially including in areas in Baghdad and around Baghdad and we're going to do everything that we can to support the Iraqis as they try to build an Iraq that's more stable, more secure and more democratic. And so that you do see the successes that you have seen, for instance, in the north replicated elsewhere in Iraq.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. in a position to offer separate assurances to the Kurds?
MR. MCCORMACK: We believe in the territorial integrity of Iraq. We believe in the Government that has been elected by all Iraqis that is designed to represent all Iraqis and is designed to work for all Iraqis. Our job is to help that government work on behalf of all of its citizens.
QUESTION: About this -- the refugees, the Iraqi refugees, the Secretary said yesterday that she authorized your charge' in Damascus to talk about the refugees with the Syrians. Would U.S. be ready to give any assistance to Syria about - for these refugees?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the main -- first of all, I don't think any of those conversations have taken place yet. I would expect in the next couple days that they do. Look we're working very closely with UNHCR, the UN Commissioner -- High Commissioner for Refugees on the issue. We -- I can't tell you exactly how our assistance is channeled, but I believe it is channeled through UNHCR as well as through NGOs operating on the ground. I can't tell you that that assistance goes directly to -- would go to the Syrian Government. I don't think it does, but we can check that out for you.
QUESTION: Going to Iran. Today top negotiator of Iran, Ali Larijani is supposed to meet with Mohamed ElBaradei, but he canceled his trip there. Do you know about it? Do you have any --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know why he would have canceled this trip.
QUESTION: Do you support the timeout proposal of ElBaradei regarding the Iran nuclear --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we support is Iran meeting the conditions laid out by the international community, and that is ending their reprocessing and enrichment-related activities. If that happens, certainly the international community can -- there's an offer out there to negotiate with them. So we'll see if the Iranians choose to take them up on that offer. Thus far, they've given no indication that they are going to do so.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Farah has one. Another one, shall I say.
QUESTION: Yes. Has Satterfield or any other State Department official met with any representative in the Kurdish government this week or are any meetings planned?
MR. MCCORMACK: Can't tell you. I'm sure on any given week he talks to somebody from the Kurdish regions.
QUESTION: No, I said met with, here in Washington.
MR. MCCORMACK: Or met with. Yeah, I don't know.