Middle East Digest: March 2, 2007
Bureau of Public Affairs
From the Daily Briefing on March 2, 2007:
QUESTION: Thank you. Sean, can you give us any -- enlighten us at all any more about the conference call yesterday, what was achieved, what remains to be achieved and the prospects for a stunning breakthrough I'm sure in tomorrow's call?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. We'll leave the sarcasm aside.
QUESTION: It wasn't a sarcasm.
MR. MCCORMACK: Put out some notes yesterday on this. Very basically let me recap. What the P-5+1 political directors were doing on the conference call is they were really working on the guts of the resolution. What are the major elements that comprise the resolution in terms of new steps that the Security Council is going to take? Made a lot of progress on that. There are still a few remaining issues that need to be done, so the political directors decided that they were going to take their homework back to capitals, work on it, reconvene tomorrow in the morning. And we expect that by next week, the action can shift to the Perm Reps up at the UN and they can actually start drafting the language of the resolution, the pre-ambular paragraphs and sort of the connective tissue of these resolutions. But the work on the major elements, what actual sanctions will apply in sort of the parameters of those sanctions, that's what they're working on right now. Now, I know the next question is, well, what exactly is going to be in the resolution and we are going --
QUESTION: No, I don't know want to know (inaudible) resolution. I want to know what they agreed to in the phone call. The resolution we can leave until next week.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. And you'll see it when it's being circulated around.
QUESTION: So they have -- so you're saying that they have agreed on the outlines of what the sanctions, new sanctions that will be --
MR. MCCORMACK: That's not what I said. What I said is that they made progress on a lot of these issues on the major elements. There's still some work to be done. That's why they're going to have another call tomorrow. And then that will -- once that work is done, that really is sort of the centerpiece of what the resolution will eventually be, what the sanctions actually will be, the parameters of those sanctions. There's still some work to be done on that, and that's what they're going to be working on tomorrow.
QUESTION: Okay. But is it your understanding or is the U.S. feeling that everyone is onboard pretty much basically? I mean, when you talk about the parameters of the sanctions, I mean, that could be anything from, you know, what exactly they're going to be to specific targets or, you know, specific organizations or people.
MR. MCCORMACK: Correct.
QUESTION: Where are you --
MR. MCCORMACK: It can be all those things.
QUESTION: And where are you now, though?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll probably be talking more about that next week. But in terms of -- you make a good process point here. This is the P-5+1, so you can get agreement among the P-5+1 but you still have to deal with the elected ten members of the Security Council. So I'm sure that there will be some suggestions, some modifications to it along the way, but most of the major work on the -- what will be the guts of this resolution, that's what's being worked on now. And we expect that that should be able to be wrapped up tomorrow in the conference call, then action shifts up to New York with the perm reps.
QUESTION: You talk about major elements, but I mean, can we be expecting major new elements in this resolution in terms of major new sanctions? Because the French Foreign Minister today is really -- his description is really tinkering around the edges, adding a few entities and individuals to the list of asset and travel freezes, and maybe some complementary measures, he says. Now --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, distinguish between the major elements of the resolution, the major elements that comprise the guts of the resolution, from overall where are we in this process. And where are we in this process is that this resolution, I would expect, would be incremental, we've said that from the beginning, and that it will be proportionate to the response that the Iranians have given the international community to this point.
Their continued defiance of the requirements of the international system is going to be met by increased pressure in the form of a -- in the form of this resolution. So I would -- up front I will tell you that this is going to be an incremental resolution. But let me make one other point, and that is that the December resolution that was passed, we readily admitted that this was not the resolution that we ourselves would have drafted. We would have included other elements in it.
But what's very interesting is that in the implementation of this resolution as well as the collateral effects of the resolution there has -- it has actually been a very effective mechanism by which to pressure the Iranian regime. And one indicator, public indicator, that I would point to in that regard is the conversation that is now taking place in public in Iran about the wisdom of the course that the regime is pursuing with respect to their nuclear program.
So the December resolution has actually had much more of an effect than even we would have predicted, and most of that is centered around the reaction of the international business community and the international financial community. What they have seen is a country now under Chapter 7 resolution. That's a big red flag to the business community when they're making investment decisions that are going to take years and years to play out, investment decisions that involve substantial sums of money. And capital can flow in a variety of places around the world, so the business leaders, financial leaders, are going to take a look and say, "What's our risk assessment? Are we really going to be able to realize the return on the investment? What are the attendant political as well as other risks of that investment?" And some of them are saying it's just not worth it.
And that is due solely to the pathway that this regime is taking the Iranian people down. Now, we wish that that were not the case and there still is another pathway that is open to them. There is a pathway to negotiation. And we have put -- we along with the other members of the P-5+1 have put a very attractive offer out there on the table. Thus far, the regime has decided that they're not going to take us up on that offer. But that's still out on the table. So there are two pathways here still open to them. We would hope that they choose the pathway of negotiation. Thus far, they have not chosen to pursue that pathway and, as a result, we're going to get another Security Council resolution.
QUESTION: Can you give us some examples of people saying it's just not worth it? Some business leaders or banks or --
MR. MCCORMACK: I can -- I'm just citing public sources. Look in the newspapers over the past couple of months, you can look at some of the European banks that have decided they're not going to do any more business with Iranian entities. Off the top of my head, I don't have them listed for you but I'd be happy to afterwards cite a couple of them that have been remarked upon in public source documents.
QUESTION: How are you, Sean? Since I'm a little new at this, could you lay out what the sanctions entail at present and how they differ from what's being talked about? Are they different in type or degree, and are we talking about travel bans on people involved in the nuclear industry, freezes of assets of people involved in the nuclear and missile technology industry? Is that the type of thing on the table now?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to get into exactly what are the elements currently being discussed. But I would just say very generally that these are -- the new sanctions are going to build on the ones that are currently in place. And the ones that are currently in place touch on some of the things that you mentioned: the travel restrictions, restrictions on doing any sort of business with certain entities with Iran that are related to their weapons of mass destruction program. So I would expect that these new sanctions that come out in the Security Council resolution would build on those. I caution you: They are going to be incremental. But again, we have seen that even small steps within the international system in the form of these sanctions resolutions are actually quite effective.
QUESTION: So you think it is a difference of degree or a different type of sanction?
MR. MCCORMACK: We haven't finished work yet on this particular resolution, but it's incremental. It's going to build on what's already there.
QUESTION: And if you don't mind, one more thing. Since it took China and Russia quite a while to come around to the December resolution, what makes you think they'll come around at all to a new one?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I guess you never know until people raise their hand in the Security Council to vote on a resolution. But just judging by the meetings that Nick Burns has had with his P-5+1 counterparts meetings and phone calls, the tone is really very, very good. Nick commented to me that these past meetings and phone calls have really been some of the best ones that he has had in the past couple of years in terms of readiness to work, roll up the sleeves at the table and really hammer out the elements to a resolution in a pretty rapid fashion.
QUESTION: And one more thing. One source we have today says that China's dragging its feet and is again the stumbling block or they'll holding off on this.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I think the tone --
QUESTION: Did I say China? I meant Russia. I meant Russia.
MR. MCCORMACK: Russia, no. We have had very good discussions with our Russian counterparts. First, Secretary Rice with Foreign Minister Lavrov when she was in Berlin and then follow-up conversations between Nick Burns and Mr. Kislyak, his counterpart.
QUESTION: Sean, earlier the Saudis were interceding --
QUESTION: Can I (inaudible) something?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: I just want to ask a little bit -- a broader question. You said that -- in there you said the December resolution, and you're admitting that the December -- I won't say admit -- the December resolution is not what you would have wanted.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. We said that at the time.
QUESTION: But then you say that the December resolution has had more of an effect than what we would have expected.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have you guys drawn any policy -- you know, policy-formulating conclusions from this that perhaps, you know, what the U.S. wants, it may not always be the most effective?
MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You didn't get what you want and yet you're happy with the results.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: So perhaps --
MR. MCCORMACK: I guess, you know, it's sort of a life lesson. You know, we can all say that, right? There's a Rolling Stones song to that effect: "You Can't Always Get What you Want."
QUESTION: Is that now guiding U.S. foreign policy? Is that it? No, Sean, come on. You were the one that brought -- no, it's a serious question. Have you drawn a conclusion -- have you drawn any conclusions?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's not a serious question. Joel.
QUESTION: Recently, in the last month or two, the Saudis were interceding with both Hamas as well as with the PA with President Abbas. Now, President Ahmadi-Nejad is just now visiting Riyadh. Have you asked the Saudis to do some preliminary legwork before this resolution reaches the UN?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we, of course, knew about the visit, but it's going to be up to the Saudi leadership to decide how they interact with the Iranian President. We would hope that they send a message to the Iranian President that across a wide spectrum the Iranian behavior in the region and around the world is just unacceptable, whether it's their support for terrorism or their pursuit for weapons of mass destruction or their efforts to block any sort of progress in building a democracy in Lebanon or in the Palestinian areas. We would hope that the message to the Iranian leadership is that they need to change their behavior.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Has phase one been fulfilled?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, George. The last time I checked into this was, I don't know, about a week ago or so and it had not been fully completed the last time I checked.
QUESTION: Sean, one more thing on Iran if you don't mind.
MR. MCCORMACK: Anything -- well, wait a minute, anything else on Sudan?
QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, you've got it.
QUESTION: Okay. Back to the timing of this, we have sources saying while the U.S. is on one side, the European Union's in the middle, China and Russia are on the other side and this may not be the last conference call and we may not be ready to put stuff on paper next week and it could be a slow -- long, slow diplomatic process. How does -- if that were true, how does that square with the IAEA saying Iran is moving full speed ahead with its installation of centrifuges and is time of the essence?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Absolute this is an urgent matter and that's why we're pushing forward with another Security Council resolution. I think the picture -- look, you never -- as I said, you never know until people raise their hands to vote yes or no on a resolution. But our read of the diplomatic state of play right now is that we're actually getting very good cooperation among the P-5+1 on coming to agreement on the elements of a resolution. I think there's broad agreement on the outlines of what that resolution should comprise and the various steps that need to be taken.
In terms of the picture you paint, that does not bear a resemblance of what I am hearing from our diplomats that are engaged in these conversations. You know, we shall see how the process unfolds. But our expectation is that Perm Reps should be able to begin drafting the actual text of the resolution next week in New York.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Korea just for a second?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you be any -- give any more details or be any more specific about what the Secretary will be talking about with the Foreign Minister as it relates to next week's meetings this afternoon?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if they will talk specifically about the working -- U.S.-North Korea working group meeting, but they'll talk broadly about what it is that we are doing and what others are doing and what South Korea is doing in terms of implementation of the agreement. I'll try to get you more afterwards. Yeah, more afterwards about what they actually spoke about.
QUESTION: Do you have any dates on the meeting on Monday night and Tuesday? You know, where it will be and --
MR. MCCORMACK: We have designated a point person for all of these details, as your colleague, Arshad Mohammed has requested. So we will after the briefing give you the name and phone number of that individual.
QUESTION: And I have another question.
MR. MCCORMACK: So you can stop asking me.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, it is, actually. He's probably going to hide after we give his name out. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I have another question about Libya. The Libyan leader Maummar Qadhafi has been very critical of Western powers, especially U.S. Yesterday, where he said that the enemy doe not launch a frontal attack but is mobilizing its agent to achieve its interest and steal power away from us as it did in Iraq. So what does it mean? Is Qadhafi getting impatient with U.S?
MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't seen those remarks. But we're working with Libya to develop a different kind of relationship and we have come light years from where we were four years ago in that relationship, largely because Libya's made a strategic decision about where its posture vis-à-vis turning away from terrorism and turning away from weapons of mass destruction programs. And that really was the -- that decision was the key that unlocked a lot of possibilities. And what we're engaged in right now is developing that relationship so that we can realize all the different possibilities in it. There are always going to be, on one side or another, differences over how fast that relationship is progressing but we are committed to moving forward with the relationship.
QUESTION: Yeah, but it didn't move for months now. What's preventing you?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, sometimes the wheels of diplomacy don't always turn as all would wish, but they do move forward and they are moving forward.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Ellen Sauerbrey's visit to Syria, will that be strictly on immigration issue and refugee issue?
MR. MCCORMACK: On refugees, yes.
QUESTION: Will there be any talk on Syria's role in Iraq with her? Can you just elaborate on what the purpose of her trip is?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, the purpose -- the purpose of her trip -- and she's going to be paired with a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees -- is to talk strictly about the issue of Iraqi refugees both already in Syria and future individuals who may try to enter into Syria from Iraq. And it's to look at a couple different aspects: one, how can we, the international community, assist with the humanitarian burden that comes along with taking care of a lot of different people who have been displaced and left their home country; and two, how do you efficiently work through the process of evaluating who among the those people qualify as refugees and then start processing them and work them through the pipeline so that they can be resettled in various countries around the world. We have talked about the fact that we are ready to take on part of that burden consistent with our international humanitarian obligations.
So Ellen along with the UNHCR representative will visit with many of the nongovernmental organizations who are doing the work in assisting these refugees on a daily basis and also who are working with these individuals to start the refugee processing pipeline. I expect that she will probably have a meeting with her counterpart in the Syrian Government, while that has not yet been scheduled, and the topic will be solely on refugees.
QUESTION: Will she deliver any message to the Syrian officials?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing -- the topics will be limited to refugees.