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Middle East Digest: April 4, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
April 4, 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 Daily Briefing on April 4, 2007:

QUESTION: Iran. Do you have anything to add to what Tom may or may not have said this morning because I missed the gaggle and so I don't know.

MR. MCCORMACK: Shame on you, Matt.

QUESTION: I know.

MR. MCCORMACK: We would just echo the sentiments of Prime Minister Blair who just spoke to the matter. Certainly, we will be pleased to see these sailors and marines returned safely to England and to their families. And the fact that this apparently will have been resolved through diplomacy is certainly positive and we echo the UK's sentiments and the idea that this has been resolved through diplomacy. And certainly the fact that the British people, the American people, citizens of the region bear no ill will toward the Iranian people and that we are prepared to work through any difficulties that might arise because of the decision making of the Iranian Government.

QUESTION: Sean, as you may remember, the first foreign policy crisis that the Bush -- this Bush Administration faced was a situation not quite similar but with China and with the EP-3 plane that went down. And that was resolved after you put together the letter -- it's called the letter of two sorries, I think is the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Two verys --

QUESTION: Two very sorries.

MR. MCCORMACK: Very, very sorry.

QUESTION: Very, very sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: Correct.

QUESTION: Was there any -- this appears to have been resolved, or may have been resolved in the same way, with the Brits saying that they wouldn't again go into Iranian waters. Do you have any consultations with the Brits about how a letter might be worded or a statement might be worded?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. They -- you know, obviously we were prepared to support the UK in any way that they asked us to. We consulted with them in terms of updates of where they stood in their diplomacy and that was quite useful. I'm not aware of any particular counsel they sought from us in how to resolve this. Clearly, they're very much capable of doing that on their own and we were pleased to be able to support them. But I'm not aware of any particular counsel that we drew on from our past experiences that we provided to them.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Apparently the five Iranians being held in Iraq are going to be granted consular access. Do you have any details on this as to why this was granted today? Was there any --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware that that is, in fact, the case. I am aware that there is a request for access to these security detainees, but frankly, you're going to have to check with the military in -- our military in Iraq who are responsible for holding these individuals. They are in -- under detention because they were involved in these EFD networks and they pose an ongoing and continuing threat to our soldiers; therefore, they are being detained. As for any other questions about whether or not there has been any access granted, you'd have to check with MNFI.

QUESTION: But does the United States intend to grant them access?

MR. MCCORMACK: Who?

QUESTION: Do you intend to grant consular access to the five? I mean, is this something that you would consider and if they are security detainees -- I'm still not sure under what rules they have --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's being -- they're being held under the fact that you have our multinational forces operating under a Security Council mandate and they are, under that mandate, able to protect and defend themselves and, in our view, breaking up these networks, detaining those individuals that are associated with these networks is part of that force protection mandate that we have.

In terms of the access, there's been a request. We will take that under consideration. I don't have any updates for you at this point, though.

QUESTION: Can you tell us when --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) involved in granting or denying that request or is that solely done by the multinational forces?

MR. MCCORMACK: They consult with us. I can't tell you at what level, Matt, honestly.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) when they asked?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look into the information, Charlie. I don't know. I don't know.

QUESTION: Well, what would be your answer, what would be your recommendation to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we would -- we -- it would depend on the circumstances. I don't have the facts, Matt. I really -- I don't have the facts. I'd be happy to try to dig into some more. I have tried to dig into it a little bit more. It has been, you know, frankly, a little bit difficult to obtain information coming out of Iraq, so as soon as we are able to get that information and digest it, analyze it, we will be able to get you --

QUESTION: But you do know that the request has been made?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I've been informed that there was a request, yes.

QUESTION: And why the consular access wouldn't be granted? What is the reason why it wouldn't --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, again, with all the further questions on this, you've exhausted my very thin knowledge on the matter and as I said, I'm continuing to try to look into the matter, get more information for you guys. As soon as I have that, I'd be happy to provide as much of it as I possibly can in public.

QUESTION: Sean --

QUESTION: But this is an issue -- sorry, go on.

QUESTION: Well, when you do and I understand -- I'm not asking for the answer now, but when you do, can you see if the Iranians have been asking for consular access since the beginning, since the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. I'm going to ask all the same questions that you would ask.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: But as a general rule, are security detainees allowed access from their consulate?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm --

QUESTION: I mean, we had enough of them in customs (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm going to -- Sue, I don't know. I'll have to check for you. I don't know what the standard procedures are.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Could you find out then, please?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, all the questions that you are asking, rest assured I am asking and will be asking.

QUESTION: Because we want also to know why there are -- were -- IRNA* is an official agency, so why IRNA* is announcing that they are granted this consular access today if it's not confirmed? Why did they announce that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Don't believe everything you read.

QUESTION: Sean, are you aware of any sort of condition from Iran that they are not going to sit down at the same table with Secretary Rice in that potential Iraq ministerial unless these five are released? Are you aware of that coming up in any conversations through the Swiss or anybody else?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think that's been communicated to us. I haven't heard any such reservations on their part.

QUESTION: Speaking about the Swiss and Iran, the Iranians apparently got back -- according to what Tom said, got back to the Swiss asking for more information about the missing American.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. We --

QUESTION: Do you know what kind of information they're asking for?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they're interested in when did he arrive there, how did he arrive there, essentially what was the flight number so they can better determine and track when and where he might have come in to Iran. This -- we take this request for information on the Iranians' part as actually an attempt to try to clarify who this person is, where he came in, in order to help determine where he is and what his current situation is right now. We don't view it as any sort of throwing up any sort of obstacles on their part.

QUESTION: So you think that this is kind of a -- this is a standard --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it's --

QUESTION: I mean, they're actually trying to be helpful or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's a legitimate request for information. They're trying to -- they're working within their system trying to determine when and where this guy came in and that -- apparently, this information will help them out.

QUESTION: But was that information not given to them at --

MR. MCCORMACK: Apparently not. Apparently, we gave them some basic biographical information and they asked in return for this additional information, which we think is a reasonable and legitimate request. We're going to try to gather it up and provide it to them.

QUESTION: That has not been done yet that you know of?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I know of, no. I don't think it has been. I think we're doing that right now.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: In your request to the Iranians, did you ask specifically whether any arm of the Iranian security forces or other officials were holding this particular gentleman?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we didn't make any presumption as to where he is at the moment. We just asked as a general matter if they had information about his whereabouts and, if so, what was his condition and if they could assist us in putting him in contact with his friends and family and if he desired to leave to assist him in leaving Iran.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I just return briefly, Sean, to the hostage issue. Do you have any general assessment of the tactics that the Iranians used? For example, Larijani apparently contacted channel four news himself. He wants to give that interview. The interview apparently encouraged the British to tone things down a bit with their rhetoric. And do you thing that this was a split between him and the President or do you think this was a carefully orchestrated PR exercise? Any idea -- any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't have an assessment for you to do that. We'd have to -- we'd have to understand that the decision-making processes within the Iranian Government. Quite frankly, we don't have a great deal of insight to that. It's an opaque regime. There did appear to have been in the early days of this crisis a number of conflicting statements that came out and it seemed as thought they were able to stick to one line. What that means, I can't tell you. I don't know. But at the moment, regardless of all of that, we will be very pleased to see these Marines returned and the incident, you know, in everybody's rearview mirror.

QUESTION: Are you encouraged by Larijani's methods? Do you think he's someone that you could do business with?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's an offer to negotiate presumably with Mr. Larijani, if the Iranians would suspend their enrichment and reprocessing. So presumably, he would be the interlocutor. He is the person with whom Mr. Solana from the P-5+1 usually talks. So he is quite clearly somebody that the Iranians have some degree of trust in as a negotiator. And if that's their designated negotiator, then so be it. He would be sitting around the table with us. But we all know what the preconditions for that are.

QUESTION: Sean, *let me ask again*, has the U.S. been advised by Jordan's King Abdullah against normalizing ties against Syria? Jordanian officials have said that the King advised the U.S. against normalizing ties with Damascus.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have diplomatic relations with Syria. We just have them at a lower level now that our Ambassador has left. We are represented at the chargé level. Certainly, we always value the input of King Abdullah. But on our own volition, I don't think we have any intention of raising that level of diplomatic representation at the current moment.

QUESTION: Okay. He -- because the Jordanians and the U.S., of course, they're close allies. But to what extent would the Jordanian King Hussein saying this -- do you see Syria destabilizing the region?

MR. MCCORMACK: Syria destabilizing the --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've -- I don't think it's any secret that we have -- we as well as others have real problems with their behavior in the region and the fact that that behavior is destabilizing to the region. Whether or not that is allowing people fighting the Iraqi Government to transit their territory or allowing financiers of those efforts to remain in Syria or whether it is hosting Palestinian rejectionist groups in Damascus or really refusing to accept the reality of Lebanon as an independent state. Those are all unhelpful, at the very least, behaviors, if not destabilizing it. So I don't think it's any secret that -- about our views regarding Syria's behavior.

QUESTION: Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Did you see anything new in President Assad's remarks today to Speaker Pelosi, any change in attitude or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I -- frankly --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in the media.

MR. MCCORMACK: I -- frankly, I haven't seen all of his remarks. I did see some newspaper headlines hailing the visit of Speaker Pelosi. There is a signal of the fact that Syria enjoys a normal relationship with the rest of the outside world, which is, in fact, not the case.

QUESTION: Sean, on the report* that the Embassy there would have a notetaker or some official even in a meeting with President Assad. Have you -- do you know if they -- that person, whoever it was, or those people have reported back to --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if they have. Typically what they do in these sorts of meetings, there's a cable that is generated that's sent back here to Washington and typically the congressional delegation has a chance to --

QUESTION: I look it up in my e-mail.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. We'll forward it to your.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely. Look for it on the classified system, Matt. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Sean, House Speaker Pelosi has delivered a message from Israel to President Assad saying that Israel is ready for peace with Syria and President Assad has answered that he's ready for peace, too. Do you think it's time for --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they -- if you check with the Israeli Government, they will tell you that there's been no change in policy, that Prime Minister Olmert and Speaker Pelosi had the discussion about the current situation, but there's been no change in Israeli policy with respect to Syria and peace negotiations.

QUESTION: And what about the message?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware that there was a message.

QUESTION: She said that she delivered this message.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll refer you over to the Israeli Government as to whether or not there was any message passed.

QUESTION: Yeah. Excuse me, a follow-up on this.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Syrian Foreign Minister has described Pelosi's visit to Syria and said that it was excellent and historical visit. And Syria will keep in touch with the Congress through the Syrian Ambassador in Washington. Do you have any comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've made our views known on Speaker Pelosi's visit as well as visit of other congressional delegations to Damascus. They are the Legislative Branch of government and certainly they do have a number of different foreign contacts. The Administration is responsible for the execution of foreign policy on behalf of the American people, but there are these foreign contacts which in many cases we do encourage. In this case, we didn't. As for any continuing contacts between any member of the Legislative Branch and the Syrian Ambassador, that's going to be up to them.

QUESTION: Yeah, still on this, Sean. The visit engendered* very strong words from the President yesterday. What do you make of this visit? Do you think it's circumventing current U.S. foreign policy? Do you refute it completely this visit? Do you -- what do you think of it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, we've made it clear that we thought the visit was ill-timed. And we have said that to a number of congressional delegations that either had intentions of traveling there or did travel there. We just didn't think it was the right time for a lot of different reasons, which we have explained. They essentially use these kinds of high-level visits as a way to drive the perception that Syria has no problems with any of its neighbors or countries in the international system. The Brits have gone there, the Spanish have gone there, other delegations have gone there and every single time it's the same pattern. They try to use it to say: "Look, no problem here." No problem with the fact that we're supporting rejectionist groups in the Palestinian areas or seeking to destabilize Lebanon or Iraq. And we think that those kinds of high-level visits just send the wrong message.

QUESTION: You're saying you've offered this similar -- discouraging -- advice discouraging visits to people from other governments?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, to other congressional delegations.

QUESTION: I know, but you jut said that -- I just want to make sure you -- the State Department hasn't gone to the Brits or the EU and said, we don't think you -- you shouldn't go. This is --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, those are their decisions. Obviously --

QUESTION: But have you made the same recommendations --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- we offer -- obviously, we offer them counsel, but that's not something that I'm going to share in public. We offer that counsel in private.

QUESTION: Sean, how did the process work, though? Did she approach you for advice or did you -- as soon as you heard about the visit, you directly told her that she shouldn't be going? How does it work?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you exactly how this -- how it works. There were some staff- level contacts. Typically when congressional delegations do make plans for a visit, they do have to work with the Administration in terms of arranging the logistics and, you know, mundane things like getting country clearance from the embassy. So there is a necessary level of work that needs to be done before any foreign travel by official visitors from the government, whether that's in the Executive Branch or the Legislative Branch. I can't tell you exactly when those contacts were initiated. But of course, when we learned of the intentions of a visit, we huddled, thought about whether or not that it was in fact a good idea, whether or not this -- our position had changed from previous such proposed visits, and at that point we initiated staff-level contacts.

And when it became clear that Speaker Pelosi intended to move forward with her visit, then we offered up the briefing about where we stand in our policy vis-à-vis Syria and how we saw events in the region. Jim Jeffrey, our number two guy in the Near East Bureau, Middle East bureau, went up to Capitol Hill and I think he was actually briefing Speaker Pelosi herself as well as other members of the delegation and their staffs.

QUESTION: You said that --

QUESTION: Jim Jeffrey was going to ask Pelosi to deliver a tough message to --

MR. MCCORMACK: That's our advice. That was our advice.

QUESTION: From all reports, it doesn't seem like she's delivered it.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let her speak for herself as to what she conveyed to President Assad. But that is our advice: If you intend to go forward with this visit and you're determined to do so, deliver a tough message to Syria about the need for them to change their behavior.

QUESTION: Actually, Speaker Pelosi did in her message strongly urge Syria not to allow fighters to cross over into Iraq. She also delivered a strong message on Hamas and Hezbollah. Do you think somehow that message will be lost with all the hoopla over her visit or do you think that that was still an important message that she delivered?

MR. MCCORMACK: If the question is whether or not the trip was worth delivering that message in person, I guess our assessment is no. You know, again, you can -- it's important if you make the threshold decision that you deliver that tough message, but the use that the Syrian Government makes of such high-level visits we think is -- far outweighs any potential benefit one might derive from delivering such a message in person.

They full well understand what it is that they need to do. We ourselves in the Executive Branch have delivered that message previously with Deputy Secretary Armitage, who many of you -- former Deputy Secretary Armitage, who many of you know and is a plainspoken fellow -- direct, shall we say. So if they didn't get the message from him about how they need to change their behavior, I don't know who else is going to be able to convey it more succinctly and directly.

Nicholas.

QUESTION: Sean, are you -- do you know of any congressional delegations who might have been dissuade by -- dissuaded by the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Anybody who canceled their trips?

QUESTION: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I'm not sure. I don't have a full list of them. But there have been several. Senator Nelson went along with Senator Specter. Senator Kerry went. So, yeah, there have been a number of them and we have tried to dissuade all of them from going.

Joel, what are you doing way back there?

QUESTION: I'm back here. Question. Conversely, do you think that -- and you just mentioned North Korea with Bill Richardson's trip.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Conversely, do you think that there were perhaps an invite directly to Speaker Pelosi because she knew it would annoy your particular tactics and your thoughts regarding the regime? Of course, you had John Bolton at the UN for two years, very outspoken.

MR. MCCORMACK: You'll have to ask Speaker Pelosi or her staff about her motivations in taking the trip to Syria, Joel.

# # #

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB # 59

MID EAST DIGEST EDITED VERSION

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 4, 2007

(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

QUESTION: Iran. Do you have anything to add to what Tom may or may not have said this morning because I missed the gaggle and so I don't know.

MR. MCCORMACK: Shame on you, Matt.

QUESTION: I know.

MR. MCCORMACK: We would just echo the sentiments of Prime Minister Blair who just spoke to the matter. Certainly, we will be pleased to see these sailors and marines returned safely to England and to their families. And the fact that this apparently will have been resolved through diplomacy is certainly positive and we echo the UK's sentiments and the idea that this has been resolved through diplomacy. And certainly the fact that the British people, the American people, citizens of the region bear no ill will toward the Iranian people and that we are prepared to work through any difficulties that might arise because of the decision making of the Iranian Government.

QUESTION: Sean, as you may remember, the first foreign policy crisis that the Bush -- this Bush Administration faced was a situation not quite similar but with China and with the EP-3 plane that went down. And that was resolved after you put together the letter -- it's called the letter of two sorries, I think is the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Two verys --

QUESTION: Two very sorries.

MR. MCCORMACK: Very, very sorry.

QUESTION: Very, very sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: Correct.

QUESTION: Was there any -- this appears to have been resolved, or may have been resolved in the same way, with the Brits saying that they wouldn't again go into Iranian waters. Do you have any consultations with the Brits about how a letter might be worded or a statement might be worded?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. They -- you know, obviously we were prepared to support the UK in any way that they asked us to. We consulted with them in terms of updates of where they stood in their diplomacy and that was quite useful. I'm not aware of any particular counsel they sought from us in how to resolve this. Clearly, they're very much capable of doing that on their own and we were pleased to be able to support them. But I'm not aware of any particular counsel that we drew on from our past experiences that we provided to them.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Apparently the five Iranians being held in Iraq are going to be granted consular access. Do you have any details on this as to why this was granted today? Was there any --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware that that is, in fact, the case. I am aware that there is a request for access to these security detainees, but frankly, you're going to have to check with the military in -- our military in Iraq who are responsible for holding these individuals. They are in -- under detention because they were involved in these EFD networks and they pose an ongoing and continuing threat to our soldiers; therefore, they are being detained. As for any other questions about whether or not there has been any access granted, you'd have to check with MNFI.

QUESTION: But does the United States intend to grant them access?

MR. MCCORMACK: Who?

QUESTION: Do you intend to grant consular access to the five? I mean, is this something that you would consider and if they are security detainees -- I'm still not sure under what rules they have --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's being -- they're being held under the fact that you have our multinational forces operating under a Security Council mandate and they are, under that mandate, able to protect and defend themselves and, in our view, breaking up these networks, detaining those individuals that are associated with these networks is part of that force protection mandate that we have.

In terms of the access, there's been a request. We will take that under consideration. I don't have any updates for you at this point, though.

QUESTION: Can you tell us when --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) involved in granting or denying that request or is that solely done by the multinational forces?

MR. MCCORMACK: They consult with us. I can't tell you at what level, Matt, honestly.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) when they asked?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll look into the information, Charlie. I don't know. I don't know.

QUESTION: Well, what would be your answer, what would be your recommendation to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we would -- we -- it would depend on the circumstances. I don't have the facts, Matt. I really -- I don't have the facts. I'd be happy to try to dig into some more. I have tried to dig into it a little bit more. It has been, you know, frankly, a little bit difficult to obtain information coming out of Iraq, so as soon as we are able to get that information and digest it, analyze it, we will be able to get you --

QUESTION: But you do know that the request has been made?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I've been informed that there was a request, yes.

QUESTION: And why the consular access wouldn't be granted? What is the reason why it wouldn't --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, again, with all the further questions on this, you've exhausted my very thin knowledge on the matter and as I said, I'm continuing to try to look into the matter, get more information for you guys. As soon as I have that, I'd be happy to provide as much of it as I possibly can in public.

QUESTION: Sean --

QUESTION: But this is an issue -- sorry, go on.

QUESTION: Well, when you do and I understand -- I'm not asking for the answer now, but when you do, can you see if the Iranians have been asking for consular access since the beginning, since the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. I'm going to ask all the same questions that you would ask.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: But as a general rule, are security detainees allowed access from their consulate?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm --

QUESTION: I mean, we had enough of them in customs (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm going to -- Sue, I don't know. I'll have to check for you. I don't know what the standard procedures are.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Could you find out then, please?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, all the questions that you are asking, rest assured I am asking and will be asking.

QUESTION: Because we want also to know why there are -- were -- IRNA* is an official agency, so why IRNA* is announcing that they are granted this consular access today if it's not confirmed? Why did they announce that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Don't believe everything you read.

QUESTION: Sean, are you aware of any sort of condition from Iran that they are not going to sit down at the same table with Secretary Rice in that potential Iraq ministerial unless these five are released? Are you aware of that coming up in any conversations through the Swiss or anybody else?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think that's been communicated to us. I haven't heard any such reservations on their part.

QUESTION: Speaking about the Swiss and Iran, the Iranians apparently got back -- according to what Tom said, got back to the Swiss asking for more information about the missing American.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. We --

QUESTION: Do you know what kind of information they're asking for?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they're interested in when did he arrive there, how did he arrive there, essentially what was the flight number so they can better determine and track when and where he might have come in to Iran. This -- we take this request for information on the Iranians' part as actually an attempt to try to clarify who this person is, where he came in, in order to help determine where he is and what his current situation is right now. We don't view it as any sort of throwing up any sort of obstacles on their part.

QUESTION: So you think that this is kind of a -- this is a standard --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it's --

QUESTION: I mean, they're actually trying to be helpful or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's a legitimate request for information. They're trying to -- they're working within their system trying to determine when and where this guy came in and that -- apparently, this information will help them out.

QUESTION: But was that information not given to them at --

MR. MCCORMACK: Apparently not. Apparently, we gave them some basic biographical information and they asked in return for this additional information, which we think is a reasonable and legitimate request. We're going to try to gather it up and provide it to them.

QUESTION: That has not been done yet that you know of?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I know of, no. I don't think it has been. I think we're doing that right now.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: In your request to the Iranians, did you ask specifically whether any arm of the Iranian security forces or other officials were holding this particular gentleman?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we didn't make any presumption as to where he is at the moment. We just asked as a general matter if they had information about his whereabouts and, if so, what was his condition and if they could assist us in putting him in contact with his friends and family and if he desired to leave to assist him in leaving Iran.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I just return briefly, Sean, to the hostage issue. Do you have any general assessment of the tactics that the Iranians used? For example, Larijani apparently contacted channel four news himself. He wants to give that interview. The interview apparently encouraged the British to tone things down a bit with their rhetoric. And do you thing that this was a split between him and the President or do you think this was a carefully orchestrated PR exercise? Any idea -- any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't have an assessment for you to do that. We'd have to -- we'd have to understand that the decision-making processes within the Iranian Government. Quite frankly, we don't have a great deal of insight to that. It's an opaque regime. There did appear to have been in the early days of this crisis a number of conflicting statements that came out and it seemed as thought they were able to stick to one line. What that means, I can't tell you. I don't know. But at the moment, regardless of all of that, we will be very pleased to see these Marines returned and the incident, you know, in everybody's rearview mirror.

QUESTION: Are you encouraged by Larijani's methods? Do you think he's someone that you could do business with?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there's an offer to negotiate presumably with Mr. Larijani, if the Iranians would suspend their enrichment and reprocessing. So presumably, he would be the interlocutor. He is the person with whom Mr. Solana from the P-5+1 usually talks. So he is quite clearly somebody that the Iranians have some degree of trust in as a negotiator. And if that's their designated negotiator, then so be it. He would be sitting around the table with us. But we all know what the preconditions for that are.

QUESTION: Sean, *let me ask again*, has the U.S. been advised by Jordan's King Abdullah against normalizing ties against Syria? Jordanian officials have said that the King advised the U.S. against normalizing ties with Damascus.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have diplomatic relations with Syria. We just have them at a lower level now that our Ambassador has left. We are represented at the chargé level. Certainly, we always value the input of King Abdullah. But on our own volition, I don't think we have any intention of raising that level of diplomatic representation at the current moment.

QUESTION: Okay. He -- because the Jordanians and the U.S., of course, they're close allies. But to what extent would the Jordanian King Hussein saying this -- do you see Syria destabilizing the region?

MR. MCCORMACK: Syria destabilizing the --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've -- I don't think it's any secret that we have -- we as well as others have real problems with their behavior in the region and the fact that that behavior is destabilizing to the region. Whether or not that is allowing people fighting the Iraqi Government to transit their territory or allowing financiers of those efforts to remain in Syria or whether it is hosting Palestinian rejectionist groups in Damascus or really refusing to accept the reality of Lebanon as an independent state. Those are all unhelpful, at the very least, behaviors, if not destabilizing it. So I don't think it's any secret that -- about our views regarding Syria's behavior.

QUESTION: Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Did you see anything new in President Assad's remarks today to Speaker Pelosi, any change in attitude or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I -- frankly --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in the media.

MR. MCCORMACK: I -- frankly, I haven't seen all of his remarks. I did see some newspaper headlines hailing the visit of Speaker Pelosi. There is a signal of the fact that Syria enjoys a normal relationship with the rest of the outside world, which is, in fact, not the case.

QUESTION: Sean, on the report* that the Embassy there would have a notetaker or some official even in a meeting with President Assad. Have you -- do you know if they -- that person, whoever it was, or those people have reported back to --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if they have. Typically what they do in these sorts of meetings, there's a cable that is generated that's sent back here to Washington and typically the congressional delegation has a chance to --

QUESTION: I look it up in my e-mail.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. We'll forward it to your.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely. Look for it on the classified system, Matt. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Sean, House Speaker Pelosi has delivered a message from Israel to President Assad saying that Israel is ready for peace with Syria and President Assad has answered that he's ready for peace, too. Do you think it's time for --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they -- if you check with the Israeli Government, they will tell you that there's been no change in policy, that Prime Minister Olmert and Speaker Pelosi had the discussion about the current situation, but there's been no change in Israeli policy with respect to Syria and peace negotiations.

QUESTION: And what about the message?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware that there was a message.

QUESTION: She said that she delivered this message.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll refer you over to the Israeli Government as to whether or not there was any message passed.

QUESTION: Yeah. Excuse me, a follow-up on this.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Syrian Foreign Minister has described Pelosi's visit to Syria and said that it was excellent and historical visit. And Syria will keep in touch with the Congress through the Syrian Ambassador in Washington. Do you have any comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've made our views known on Speaker Pelosi's visit as well as visit of other congressional delegations to Damascus. They are the Legislative Branch of government and certainly they do have a number of different foreign contacts. The Administration is responsible for the execution of foreign policy on behalf of the American people, but there are these foreign contacts which in many cases we do encourage. In this case, we didn't. As for any continuing contacts between any member of the Legislative Branch and the Syrian Ambassador, that's going to be up to them.

QUESTION: Yeah, still on this, Sean. The visit engendered* very strong words from the President yesterday. What do you make of this visit? Do you think it's circumventing current U.S. foreign policy? Do you refute it completely this visit? Do you -- what do you think of it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, we've made it clear that we thought the visit was ill-timed. And we have said that to a number of congressional delegations that either had intentions of traveling there or did travel there. We just didn't think it was the right time for a lot of different reasons, which we have explained. They essentially use these kinds of high-level visits as a way to drive the perception that Syria has no problems with any of its neighbors or countries in the international system. The Brits have gone there, the Spanish have gone there, other delegations have gone there and every single time it's the same pattern. They try to use it to say: "Look, no problem here." No problem with the fact that we're supporting rejectionist groups in the Palestinian areas or seeking to destabilize Lebanon or Iraq. And we think that those kinds of high-level visits just send the wrong message.

QUESTION: You're saying you've offered this similar -- discouraging -- advice discouraging visits to people from other governments?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, to other congressional delegations.

QUESTION: I know, but you jut said that -- I just want to make sure you -- the State Department hasn't gone to the Brits or the EU and said, we don't think you -- you shouldn't go. This is --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, those are their decisions. Obviously --

QUESTION: But have you made the same recommendations --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- we offer -- obviously, we offer them counsel, but that's not something that I'm going to share in public. We offer that counsel in private.

QUESTION: Sean, how did the process work, though? Did she approach you for advice or did you -- as soon as you heard about the visit, you directly told her that she shouldn't be going? How does it work?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you exactly how this -- how it works. There were some staff- level contacts. Typically when congressional delegations do make plans for a visit, they do have to work with the Administration in terms of arranging the logistics and, you know, mundane things like getting country clearance from the embassy. So there is a necessary level of work that needs to be done before any foreign travel by official visitors from the government, whether that's in the Executive Branch or the Legislative Branch. I can't tell you exactly when those contacts were initiated. But of course, when we learned of the intentions of a visit, we huddled, thought about whether or not that it was in fact a good idea, whether or not this -- our position had changed from previous such proposed visits, and at that point we initiated staff-level contacts.

And when it became clear that Speaker Pelosi intended to move forward with her visit, then we offered up the briefing about where we stand in our policy vis-à-vis Syria and how we saw events in the region. Jim Jeffrey, our number two guy in the Near East Bureau, Middle East bureau, went up to Capitol Hill and I think he was actually briefing Speaker Pelosi herself as well as other members of the delegation and their staffs.

QUESTION: You said that --

QUESTION: Jim Jeffrey was going to ask Pelosi to deliver a tough message to --

MR. MCCORMACK: That's our advice. That was our advice.

QUESTION: From all reports, it doesn't seem like she's delivered it.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let her speak for herself as to what she conveyed to President Assad. But that is our advice: If you intend to go forward with this visit and you're determined to do so, deliver a tough message to Syria about the need for them to change their behavior.

QUESTION: Actually, Speaker Pelosi did in her message strongly urge Syria not to allow fighters to cross over into Iraq. She also delivered a strong message on Hamas and Hezbollah. Do you think somehow that message will be lost with all the hoopla over her visit or do you think that that was still an important message that she delivered?

MR. MCCORMACK: If the question is whether or not the trip was worth delivering that message in person, I guess our assessment is no. You know, again, you can -- it's important if you make the threshold decision that you deliver that tough message, but the use that the Syrian Government makes of such high-level visits we think is -- far outweighs any potential benefit one might derive from delivering such a message in person.

They full well understand what it is that they need to do. We ourselves in the Executive Branch have delivered that message previously with Deputy Secretary Armitage, who many of you -- former Deputy Secretary Armitage, who many of you know and is a plainspoken fellow -- direct, shall we say. So if they didn't get the message from him about how they need to change their behavior, I don't know who else is going to be able to convey it more succinctly and directly.

Nicholas.

QUESTION: Sean, are you -- do you know of any congressional delegations who might have been dissuade by -- dissuaded by the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Anybody who canceled their trips?

QUESTION: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. I'm not sure. I don't have a full list of them. But there have been several. Senator Nelson went along with Senator Specter. Senator Kerry went. So, yeah, there have been a number of them and we have tried to dissuade all of them from going.

Joel, what are you doing way back there?

QUESTION: I'm back here. Question. Conversely, do you think that -- and you just mentioned North Korea with Bill Richardson's trip.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Conversely, do you think that there were perhaps an invite directly to Speaker Pelosi because she knew it would annoy your particular tactics and your thoughts regarding the regime? Of course, you had John Bolton at the UN for two years, very outspoken.

MR. MCCORMACK: You'll have to ask Speaker Pelosi or her staff about her motivations in taking the trip to Syria, Joel.

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