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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Press Relations Office > Daily Press Briefings > 2005 > December
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 20, 2005

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Statement on Under Secretary Burns visit to Port-au-Prince
United Nations request for Helicopters for January elections / Possibility of Former President Aristides return


Release of Mohammad Ali Hammadi by German authorities / U.S. Extradition request / German Notification of his release / Possibility of Hammadis extradition from Lebanon to stand trial in the United States
Release of German Hostage Suzanne Osthoff from Iraq


Reported ban on western music by President Ahmadi-Nejad


Date for Macedonia to begin membership negotiations with EU


Evo Moraless apparent election victory / Morales statements on Coca production / Cooperation with U.S. on fighting illegal drugs, other issues


Reported video of the killing of an American security contractor
Election results / Voter turnout / Sunni participation in election
Sectarian voting pattern among Sunnis and Shia


Unification Minister Chungs meeting with Deputy Secretary Zoellick / Secretary Rice drop-by


12:30 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I have one short statement for you, then we can get right into the questions.

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns is leading a U.S. Government delegation to Port-au-Prince, Haiti today. During his one-day visit he will meet with leaders of Haiti's interim government as well as representatives of civil society, the business community and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH. His visit underscores the United States support for timely democratic elections in Haiti in January in solidarity with Haiti's continuing process of political transition and economic reform.

With that, I'd be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Can we ask about Haiti? The UN has requested of the United States that it loan 10 helicopters to help with the January election. Have you said yes, that you will do that?

MR. MCCORMACK: We're taking a look at that request. Taking a look at it.

QUESTION: Okay. Have you told them when you can get them answer by, given it's not very far away?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. No, I understand. The elections are scheduled to take place on January 8th so we'll take a look at this request and get back to them on it. I don't have a timeline for you.

QUESTION: Okay. I also understand that Gabriel Valdez, who is the UN Special Rep for Haiti, he said that there's a deficit of about $16 million for the stabilization operation and was also seeking more funds from Washington.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll be in contact with all of our partners. We are working together quite closely with a number of other countries on the issue of elections in Haiti. So we will do everything we can, working with the international community, to see that the people down in Haiti who are helping the Haitians organize this election have everything that they need to hold a successful election.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: In Haiti, before the elections the former president -- the former prime minister, Rene Préval, is the favorite, according to the polls, and he said that he wouldn't oppose a return of former President Aristide in Haiti. Do you have a comment on that? Do you have a position?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as for who from the list of candidates the Haitian people choose as their next president, that's a decision for the Haitian people to make. I don't believe that Mr. Aristide is on the list of those candidates. I think, actually, the Haitian people are moving beyond this most recent period in their history. Holding this democratic election where you have a number of different candidates from across the political spectrum is an important step in Haiti moving forward to a more hopeful future.

QUESTION: Yeah, but it was not my question. Aristide is not a candidate, but if Préval is elected and if he allows him to go back, what will be your position?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we haven't even gotten to the election at which this person you're talking about might be elected and then after the election, that person might decide one way or another on a policy issue. So we're several steps away from this kind of question. I, again, have -- when we visited Haiti, we didn't see really any support or much support while we were down there for Mr. Aristide returning to Haiti. As a matter of fact, I think the Haitian people are looking forward to a different kind of future, free from the sort of factionalism and violence that unfortunately we have seen over the recent years in Haiti, has unfortunately been an all-too-present part of their history over the past years.

QUESTION: Let me ask it this way, if a democratically elected government in Haiti were to invite Aristide's return, would the United States stand in the way?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, that's not the issue before us. The issue before us is an election for a new president. And Mr. Aristide left of his own volition. He is now in South Africa. I haven't seen any indication that he is going to be returning to Haiti. And, you know, I think the Haitian people are looking beyond their recent past, again, which was -- which had been, unfortunately, marked by violence, factionalism, cronyism, you know, nontransparent governance, corruption and they're trying to turn a new page on their history. And that's what we, the United States, as well as other countries working with Haiti, are trying to do and trying to help them do.

QUESTION: New subject?


QUESTION: A Lebanese man who is serving a life sentence in Germany for the 1985 TWA hijacking and killing a U.S. Navy diver has been released and returned to Lebanon. My question is: (a) what do you think of the German Government's decision; and (b) will the U.S. make any sort of attempt with the Lebanese Government to extradite him?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me just, you know, let me just say that the United States will make every effort to see that this individual, Mohammad Ali Hammadi, faces justice in a United States court for his role in the murder of Mr. Stethem. At the time of his arrest, the United States sought to extradite Mr. Hammadi to the United States in order for him to stand trial here. Germany, at that time, made the decision to assert jurisdiction over the case and he was tried and convicted and sentenced in Germany. In the years since his arrest and conviction, the United States has made its views known that Hammadi should face trial in the U.S. for the murder of Mr. Stethem and that we have demonstrated over the years that when an individual -- we believe an individual is responsible for the murder of innocent American civilians that we will track them down and that we will bring them to justice in the United States. We saw that -- we have seen that over the years. We saw that with the person responsible for the murder of an American citizen, Mr. Klinghoffer. We tracked that person down and we brought them to justice in the United States. It doesn't matter how long it takes, but we will track them down and they will face justice in the United States.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Have you asked the Lebanese Government then to turn him over?

MR. MCCORMACK: We are going to make every effort, as I said, to see that this person faces justice. I believe that he -- you can check with Lebanese authorities. I believe that they are aware of his presence in Lebanon and we're going to make every effort to see that he stands trial here in the United States.

QUESTION: But the question is: Is it now incumbent on the Lebanese Government to turn him over or -- and have you asked specifically for that to happen?

MR. MCCORMACK: We are going to talk to the -- we are talking to the Lebanese Government about that. The issue is complicated by the fact that we don't have an extradition treaty with the Lebanese Government. So we are in contact with them on this issue and, as I said, regardless of the timeline, we will make every effort to see that this individual stands trial in a U.S. court for what he has done.


QUESTION: Sean, the German Justice Ministry is saying that there was no active extradition request from the United States, that yes, in '87 that was done but it was turned down and since then there's not been a renewal of a request. Is that true?

And the second question is when did you learn about his sending back to Lebanon?

MR. MCCORMACK: On the first issue, I don't know if this is a legalism or not. I know that this has been an issue that we have tracked over time with German authorities. You know, I can't tell you if an initial extradition request again serves as a continuing extradition request. I'm not a lawyer. I can't tell you those things. I do know that we have been in contact with German authorities over the years regarding this case.

We did -- I can't tell you exactly when we found out that he was going to be released, but it was -- we understand that he was sentenced to a life imprisonment and that under German law life imprisonment usually means 25 years. They have a different system of justice than we do. And that based on their law and their rules and their regulations, he was released, I think, at the 20-year mark, 18 --

QUESTION: A percentage of --

MR. MCCORMACK: At the 18-year mark, yes.

QUESTION: How did you learn about it? Did the Germans notify you or did you learn from the press in Germany? How --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, they notified us.

QUESTION: You were notified.


QUESTION: And just one follow-up. Do you -- it seems that -- well, let me ask you the question this way: do you view this as a decision of an independent German judiciary system or do you think that the government in Germany had something to do with the decision?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that this was a decision that was taken within the confines and the context of German law.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think we've got more on this. Saul.

QUESTION: When the United States was notified by Germany that he was going to be released, how did you then implement your policy of making every effort to make sure he comes to the United States? Did you then renew an extradition request, make clear to the government then that you didn't want him released to Lebanon but you wanted him sent to the United States?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Saul, what other legal steps -- again, I don't know the ins and outs of the legal system. I'll check for you on that.


QUESTION: Sean, was it -- were you let known about this once he was already in Lebanon? Do you know that? Or did you know about it when he was still in Germany?

MR. MCCORMACK: It was before he was in Lebanon.

QUESTION: Before he was in Lebanon.



QUESTION: Sean, in light of recent stories, does the crime for which you seek to have him face trial in the United States come under the possibility that you might pursue rendition?

MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie, I couldn't answer that question from this -- I know it's a serious question. I can't answer that question from this podium.


QUESTION: Do you anticipate that if tried in the United States he could potentially face the death penalty, and was that issue part of the -- your discussions with the Germans over the years?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you whether or not that entered into their decision whether or not to assert their jurisdiction over the matter. I don't know at this point. We'll look back. We'll ask the lawyers about that.

As for whether or not he would face the death penalty here, again, we'll try to -- we'll do what we can here. That might be a question the Department of Justice might have to answer.

QUESTION: What's the basic issue here? The guys commits the crime, he met justice in the German system and according to their review and their law, he's freed. Is it that when someone does something like this, you actually want them to be executed? Is that what the problem is?

MR. MCCORMACK: The, you know, and again, this gets into interpretations of double jeopardy for crimes. I think under the German interpretation of the -- according to their laws and their interpretation of the laws, that he has in fact served a sentence for all the potential crimes that may have committed -- been committed. In our view, he has not. That he could be, in fact, convicted for the murder of Mr. Stethem so that -- again, there's a difference in the interpretations between the legal systems. So again, this is something that is not new. We have made -- we made our legal case to the German authorities and our policy is that we will make every effort now to see that he stands trial in the United States.

QUESTION: Okay. So it's an individual thing for this case. It's not some blanket policy whereby anybody kills an American abroad, we want them to stand trial in the United States, is that you don't really feel justice was done to this guy in Germany.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's based on the facts of the matter and we believe that the facts merit his standing trial in the United States for the murder of Mr. Stethem.

QUESTION: Just to clear something up here and make sure I understand correctly. So the German Government comes to you, the Embassy, whoever, and says, we're going to release this person because he's served his sentence. Now, then you say, well, yes, but we'd like him extradited to the United States and the Germans say, no, sorry --

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, that was Saul's question whether or not there was a renewed extradition request. I said that I would try to get an answer for you on that matter.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just to follow up on this. What -- politically, what was the response? I mean, did the Secretary get on the phone? Did she get on the -- are you guys protesting the fact that the Germans let him go to Lebanon?

MR. MCCORMACK: She -- the Secretary was aware of this case. She was briefed on it. We were engaging the German Government at a variety of levels. I don't believe that she intervened in this particular matter.

In terms of our views on this, we, I think, are disappointed by the fact that he was released before the end of his full sentence. Now, again, that gets to the matter of German laws, German regulations about how long somebody serves their sentence. I think it's clear that from the history of this case that we would have preferred that he stand trial in the United States. I think you can see that from the fact that we requested his extradition when he was first arrested and the German Government decided that they were going to assert their right to try him and imprison him in Germany.

So I think again from that, you can read into the fact that we were certainly disappointed at the time that we didn't get our hands on him then. And we are disappointed now that he has been released before the end of his full sentence. But, as I said, that's a matter of German law.

As a matter of policy, you know, in our view, with what happens going forward, as I said, we're going to make every effort to see that he stands trial in the United States for what he did, that he face justice.

QUESTION: You began that by saying that you're disappointed now that he's been released before the end of his full sentence. Would you have pursued the matter if he had, in fact, served -- I don't know -- he had -- the full 25 years --

MR. MCCORMACK: The full seven years that --

QUESTION: -- or the 20 you initially expected?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that -- I think that regardless of how long he served, whether or not he served the full 25 years or whether it was 18 years, as is the case, that we still would have sought to have him stand trial in the United States, which is now where we find ourselves.

QUESTION: So in that sense, it doesn't really matter -- you're disappointed anyway, you'd be disappointed now, you'd be disappointed six years from now, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that we -- well, we were -- if you want to trace back the disappointment, it goes back to the original -- it goes back to the original decision to try him in Germany and not have him tried in the United States.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one question, the timing -- because this happened right after a German citizen was released in Iraq and I wonder if you're worried that there was any quid pro quo here?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- I am not aware of any facts that would substantiate people making that linkage. You know, we have -- we, of course, are pleased that Ms. Osthoff has been released and is going to be returned to her family. But I am not aware of anything that would indicate there was any quid pro quo there.

QUESTION: Did the German Government seek to assure you that there wasn't any quid pro quo?

MR. MCCORMACK: On that matter, Saul, I'm not sure what we have heard directly from the German Government. But I'm not aware of anything that would substantiate those facts. And I think the German Government has said -- at least, I've seen the quote saying that they deny any linkage between the two things.

QUESTION: Speaking of our hostages, is there any update on the American hostages and --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't have any update for you on that.

QUESTION: Including the fact that now a video has been released that is said to show the killing of Ronald Schulz?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Our people have looked at -- have looked at -- are looking at the video but they can't substantiate that that is in fact what people have claimed it to be.

QUESTION: Is there concern that it is? I mean, is there a leaning either way?

MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't lean in any direction on it.

Yes, Elise.

QUESTION: A new topic? Do you have anything on the recent Iranian Government's decision to ban all Western music?

MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen the reports of that. If true, an indication that this government, led by President Ahmadi-Nejad is taking Iran 180 degrees from where the rest of the world is going. And I suppose this is partially a product of a system of governance where you start weeding out who can run in the presidential election by fiat before the election is even run.

So again, this is -- the Iranian people, we think, certainly deserve better than this kind of treatment from their government and we stand with the Iranian people. They're a great people with a long and proud history and, sadly, actions like this, actions by their president to -- through his rhetoric, to isolate Iran from the rest of the world is a sad state of affairs for the Iranian people.


QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on this?

(No response.)


QUESTION: Macedonia is to be given European Union candidate status but with no firm prospect or deadline in beginning membership negotiations. Can you comment on that, please?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to look into this. Certainly we think that expansion of the EU, as they have done in the past, is something that is a European decision. We in the United States have supported that. We think it's important for the future prosperity of the European continent and also adds to global prosperity by bringing those others who may have been left behind into the EU. We think that a strong EU, a vibrant EU, an expanding EU, is good for Europe and good for the world.

QUESTION: Is it your expectations for the Macedonian Government, for example, that next year Macedonia will receive a date from the European Union for start of negotiation process for full membership in the 25 Euro bloc?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to check to see what the status is of discussions between Macedonia and the EU is. I'm not up to date on that, I have to admit.

Yeah, Dave.

QUESTION: Sean, Evo Morales appears to have won that Bolivian presidential election straight-up, and I wonder if the United States has reached out to him, sent him a congratulation, intends to make dialogue with him.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as of this morning, I don't think that they have finished counting the votes and come out with a final vote tally. And that's important because if he doesn't get more than 50 percent, then the matter goes to the parliament and I think there's a second round to the process. If he gets more than 50 percent, then I think under Bolivian law then he is -- he will be certified as president.

We have publicly congratulated Mr. Morales on his apparent victory. I don't think there's a question in terms of whether or not he will receive the most votes. I think that that's not in question. The question is did he get more than 50 percent at this point and do you go to a second round. So we have congratulated him on his apparent victory. We've congratulated the Bolivian people on the kind of election process that they have run. And that we hope with this election that they can begin to move beyond what has been a difficult period in Bolivia's political history.

And as for the future, we'll see what kind of policies the next Bolivian president pursues and that the kind of relationship and the quality of the relationship between the United States and Bolivia will depend on what kind of policies they pursue, including how they govern, do they govern democratically and do they have a respect for democratic institutions.

QUESTION: At a news conference this morning, he said that he was against cocaine, against drug trafficking, but for some coca production, and he called on the U.S. to enter into a new agreement to truly fight drug trafficking. I'm wondering if you had any comment on that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's what we thought we were doing with the Bolivian Government. We would hope that the kind of cooperation that we have with Bolivia in fighting the production, transport and growing of illegal drugs continues. Again, we'll see what kind of policies Mr. Morales pursues if, in fact, he is -- when he is certified as the new president of Bolivia.

QUESTION: On the issue of the coca, of the growing of the coca, I mean, do you buy his argument that a lot of or the majority of coca that is grown is for legitimate use?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have to admit, Elise, I have not looked into that particular line of argument. With respect to --

QUESTION: Okay. He's been --

MR. MCCORMACK: With respect to the production of coca, the growing of coca for production of illicit drugs, our policy on that is very clear.

QUESTION: Right. But he says that -- he says that he's not advocating actual drug trafficking and drug use, but he's saying that he advocates the growing of coca because it's a legitimate export for the country and it's used for, you know, a lot of other purposes, such as tea and, you know, chewing and things like that.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that we would make that distinction.

QUESTION: On Iraq, the preliminary results are out now and Ambassador Khalilzad has come out and expressed some concerns that they look to be -- the voting looks to be split down the ethnic lines. Can you expand on that? I've only seen his comments reported.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that Ambassador Khalilzad would note what we would all note, is that it is going to be very important for Iraqis to look beyond whatever differences they may have, whatever sectarian differences they may have, and come together in the political process to form a new government that will be the foundation for a more hopeful, peaceful and prosperous country for the people of Iraq. They will -- in the voting we have seen record high turnouts. We have seen more Sunnis participate in this election than did -- than they did in the constitutional referendum process. And it will be very important for all Iraqis to work together to build a better common future.

We believe that -- we believe in Iraq that this is certainly possible. Their history, their culture and their values indicates that they can overcome whatever differences may exist between different sects or different regions in Iraq. They are fighting to overcome the politics of division and tyranny that Saddam Hussein used to rule Iraq for 30 years. He ruled by enhancing those and exacerbating the divisions between Sunni and Shia, Sunni and Kurd.

So what Iraqis now are doing is they're working -- now learning to overcome any differences, any divides that they may have. And it takes some time to build a political class, a new political class in Iraq. And that's what we're witnessing. But at every point along the way, we have seen Iraqis coming together, rather than giving into any centrifugal forces that may exist within Iraqi society, they are pulling together despite the best efforts of Zarqawi and the terrorists who try to tear the country apart, they are actually -- they are pulling together and that's what we're seeing and that's why we're going to continue to work with them to do.

QUESTION: But actually this vote shows that they voted down ethnic lines, not that they came together and voted across them.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is -- we're still in the early stages of an Iraqi democracy. This is a new experience for them. This is, you know, Iraqi democracy is what two years old now. They had their first election just this past January. This is the third election that they have had in a year. And they're -- over the years, they are going to -- their political system is going to develop. How it develops is going to be up to them, you know, whether they move beyond identity politics, we'll see. But what is important now is that they are in fact working together. They have shown that they are able to learn to build coalitions, that they are able to work across party lines, that they are able to work across ethnic lines, that they are able to work across lines of religious sects. So this is -- it's part of, you know, part of democracy and I would expect that that process is going to continue in the years ahead.

QUESTION: Sean, let me go back to Bolivia if I could. You said that you're going to watch what kind of policies his government pursue and I just wanted to get a sense -- are you looking mainly at the coca and natural gas, hydrocarbon --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, across a wide range. That's, you know, that's part of it. But I think that important in the kind of policies that they pursue will be what kind of respect for democratic institutions and promotion of democratic institutions does this government follow. The issue for the United States is not what is -- not the political orientation of a particular government -- if it's left of center or right of center or right down the middle -- it's how they govern, do they govern in a democratic way, do they work to strengthen democratic institutions, do they use the -- do they apply the laws of the country in furtherance of democratic -- the democratic system, do they respect the constitution that they have? Those are all things that we look at and that's part of what we will look at with Bolivia.

QUESTION: One follow-up. There's several groups released a report recently saying that aid to the region, Latin America as a whole, has become almost equal military, economic. They're worried that the war on drugs has become too militaristic. And I wonder when you see these homegrown leftist movements coming up if there's some rethinking going on in this building to recalibrate U.S. aid to Latin America?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen that report. I'll try to get an answer for you in terms of the division between military assistance and other kinds of assistance.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: The South Korean Unification Minister visited this building this morning and could you tell whom he met and what he discussed?

MR. MCCORMACK: He met with Deputy Secretary Zoellick. And Secretary Rice also stopped by for about 15 minutes to welcome him to the building, welcome him to the United States. Secretary Rice underlined the close alliance between the United States and South Korea. She thanked him for the South Korean troop contribution to -- continuing the troop contribution to Iraq. And she also emphasized the importance of moving the Six-Party process forward. It was a brief drop-by.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.

(This briefing was concluded at 1:04 p.m.)

DPB # 215

Released on December 20, 2005

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