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Middle East Digest: Feb. 23, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
February 23, 2007

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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 Feb. 23, 2007

George.

QUESTION: I believe you took a question on the U.S. position concerning the move to make cluster bombs illegal. Do you have something on that for us?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there was recently a meeting in Norway. I think that it was taking place today or over the course of the next couple of days. We didn't send a representative to this meeting. This gets pretty technical pretty quickly but basically there is already a negotiating forum called the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Now they've already come up with a treaty. We have forwarded this to the Senate. We believe that this is the appropriate forum and mechanism by which this issue of cluster munitions should be addressed. We ourselves have already taken a couple of other steps with regard to technical upgrades to cluster munitions as well as looking very closely at the rules of engagement, how they are used. So it is something that over the course of the years we have looked at very closely, we have taken very seriously the international discussion with respect to the threat posed by unexploded ordinance to innocent civilians. So we've addressed that in a couple of ways.

One, the technical upgrades as well as rules of engagement -- upgrades that I just talked about. The second is we have also spent a significant amount of money over the course of the past decade or so in the clean up of these unexploded munitions all around the world. We'll have a fact sheet out for you later. But the bottom line is we spent about a billion dollars over this period of time in the clean up, in places ranging from East Asia to Southeast Europe to the Middle East. So it is an issue that we know is a great humanitarian concern in the international system. It's an issue of humanitarian concern for us. We, however, take the position that these munitions do have a place and a use in military inventories, given the right technology as well as the proper rules of engagement.

Kirit.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that actually?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: I think it was said a couple of weeks ago that there's been no shipment of these munitions to Israel since the war last summer. Is that still the case?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to check for you, Kirit. I honestly haven't checked on that recently. There's an ongoing investigation on our side as well as the Israeli side. I don't think that we have been asked by Congress to follow up on our initial report that we sent up there within the past couple of months. I can't remember the exact date. So I'm not aware of any shipment or non-shipment at this point. We can look into it for you.

QUESTION: What's the latest on that investigation and where's that stand and what's the next step?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, if memory serves, we forwarded an initial report to Congress as was required under the Arms Export Control Act; that's done. We are still gathering some information from the Israeli side. They still have an investigation that is ongoing.

Now in terms of further actions with respect to a final report that requires the Congress to come back to us and ask us to take another step. On our own, we of course, are going to take a look at what further information we are able to generate in our -- look at this as well as from the Israelis. If there are any steps that we need to take, we're of course going to take them.

QUESTION: And so you haven't heard back from Congress, you said, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: To my knowledge we haven't.

Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes, Mr. McCormack.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried and Air Force General Oberling told us yesterday at the Foreign Press Center that Europe, which means also Greece, is facing a threat from North Korean missiles and the U.S. must counter them deploying missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland. Since you reached an agreement with North Korea recently, why do you proceed in this policy?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I honestly haven't looked at that whole transcript. What I suspect --

QUESTION: They said --

MR. MCCORMACK: What I suspect that they were talking about was the threat posed by the North Korean missile technologies in the Middle East. Now, of course, we know that Iran and North Korea have in the past had a relationship which they --

QUESTION: But this is Europe, though.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm getting to that. So it is -- again, I haven't looked at the transcript, but I suspect what he's talking about is the threat posed by the export of that North Korean missile technology to states in the Middle East. Now to get to your question, we are concerned about the threat posed by possible missile launches from some states in the Middle East. We have referred specifically to Iran in this regard in the past.

And so that is our motivation behind working with friends and allies in Europe in constructing a missile -- part of a missile defense architecture there. Now we are working with a variety of different countries on this. This is a global effort. We have recently talked to Poland the Czech Republic concerning actual deployment of this architecture. But this is a process and a system that is going to evolve over time. So just because now you have systems deployed potentially in the Czech Republic as well as in Poland, that doesn't mean that through other avenues of cooperation the architecture might change and evolve over time.

So the bottom line is it is designed to help protect our friends and allies as well as our interests in the United States from missile launches emanating from the Middle East as well as from other areas of the globe.

QUESTION: One more. They told us also that Europe is facing threat by Iranian missiles, as you said --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- and U.S. should deploy counter missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland. I am wondering why you don't deploy them in strategic areas of Turkey which are closer to Iran in order to counter them.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this gets into technical questions of the point of intercept and how much warning you need to have in order to intercept the missiles and how much reaction time you need in order to determine if it is, in fact, a missile -- incoming missile threat. So it gets really complicated about points of interception and all sorts of technical calculations that I, frankly, am not qualified to discuss.

QUESTION: Did you --

MR. MCCORMACK: The technical experts determined that based on the threat that they saw at this time, that those locations were optimal for the placement of radar and interceptors in order to counter the threat from missiles --

QUESTION: Did you discuss the issue with the Turkish officials?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you that we did. I'm not sure.

QUESTION: May we assume that you are doing this plan in order to protect European Union from these threats?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, to protect our friends and allies as well as the United States from these threats. And also one other point about your earlier question. Yes, we are -- we do have some -- the Department of Defense referred to it -- a test bed in Alaska that is designed to provide some initial capabilities, rudimentary capabilities to protect from a potential missile launch from North Korea against the United States.

QUESTION: Thank you.

*******

Yes. Let him and we'll go back to you afterwards.

QUESTION: At a time when there is talk about additional sanctions on Iran, Iran's Foreign Minister was in Turkey earlier this week and he and the Turkish Government officials agreed in principle on more cooperation on energy, including both gas and oil deals. Any comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's for the Government of Turkey to decide what sort of -- they're neighbors -- what sort of cooperation they have with Iran. Turkey has a full appreciation of the threat posed by Iran's nuclear weapons program and we've had good discussions with them. And we would hope and expect that the Turkish Government, in whatever interactions that it may have with the Iranian Government, will make clear to them that they need to come into compliance with what the rest of the world has asked them to do: suspend their enrichment and reprocessing-related activities and you can realize a different pathway with the rest of the world.

There's an offer out there. It's an attractive offer. The Iranians thus far have not -- have decided not to take up the international community on that offer. As a result, they are finding themselves further and further isolated from the rest of the world. It's unfortunate for the Iranian people. We hope that the Iranian Government would choose a different pathway, and that pathway is still open to them.

QUESTION: A follow-up to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Some in the Administration have said that the U.S. is not taking any options off the table with regard to Iran. At the same time --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense --

QUESTION: Yeah. At the same time, people are saying also at the same time that the military option is not what they're going for at this point. Can you just kind of reconcile those two comments, I mean, that they're not mutually exclusive?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the policymaker, somebody who is responsible for protecting the interests of the United States, advancing our diplomatic interests. We are on a diplomatic pathway to try to resolve differences that Iran has with the rest of the world. It's not just the United States.

But we have made it also very clear that we will confront Iranian behavior where it does pose a threat to us; for example, in Iraq where they are involved in the EFD networks. And our forces are going to take steps to protect themselves.

We are also working closely with our friends and allies in the Gulf countries who perceive a threat from Iran. We also have interests in the Persian Gulf making sure that that waterway stays open to the free flow of commerce through a very important and strategic pathway to the rest of the world.

But still, policymakers -- and you never want the President of the United States to ever take any options off the table when he is dealing with the interests of the United States as well as the interests of our friends and allies. But we are very, very clear: We're committed to that diplomatic pathway, and we hope that we and the rest of the world can make it work. We're working really hard at that.

QUESTION: It's an option but it's not an option?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's -- you know, Kirit, this is no different than you've heard from any other president, whether Republican or Democrat. This is not something that's novel or unique to this President.

*******

MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes. Mr. McCormack, in the framework of the religious freedom for which the U.S. Government is very concerned, could you please comment on reports in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz , H-a-a-r-e-t-z --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I'm familiar with how to spell it.

QUESTION: -- that documents obtained by senior officials from the Israeli Government in order to extort land using threats from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm going to have to get back to you on that one. I don't have any information on it.

QUESTION: Since you are going to check for me, I would like to know if your Consulate General reported on those matters to the State Department and if you are concerned about the state of religious freedom for the Greek Orthodox Christians in Jerusalem?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check into it for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.


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