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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 7, 2007

INDEX:

SUDAN

U.S. Administration Discussing “Plan B” Options / UN and AU Deploying Phase 1 / Donor Countries Need to Commit to Contribute Forces
Discussions with the Chinese / China Sending Mixed Signals in Public
President Bashir’s Commitment to Implementation of All Phases

TURKEY

Foreign Minister Gul’s Comments on Congressional Armenian Resolution

IRAN

Secretary Rice’s Testimony / Reports of Iran’s Willingness to Recognizing Israel
Timeline to Release Dossier
Russians Have Played a Positive Role / IAEA Report

ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS

President Musharraf’s Efforts / Initiatives by Responsible Parties are Welcome / U.S. will Review Proposals

KOSOVO

Russia’s Concerns About Independence for Kosovo / U.S. Sensitive to Regional Issues

IRAQ

Secretary Rice’s Meeting with UN High Commissioner for Refugees


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

(12:35 p.m. EST)

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. Get right into your questions. That's it. The Secretary has answered them all. She is testifying. See you later. You've been a great audience.

Yes, Jonathan.

QUESTION: Can you give us a bit more about the Plan B -- Sudan, Darfur?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to get into any details. We've had extensive discussions within the Administration about what steps we might take if President Bashir does not follow through on his commitment to allow in all three phases of the AU/UN peacekeeping -- or the AU/UN hybrid force into Darfur.

Where we stand right now is that President Bashir has made a commitment in principle to allow in all three phases. The UN and AU have only gotten to the point now of really deploying the elements of phase one. I think there are about slightly more than 40 individuals who have actually been deployed into the region. They are now trying to organize phase two, which would be about 1,000 people. This would be an enabling force of headquarters elements, engineers and so forth. So they're looking for donor countries to make the commitment to contribute forces to that phase two as well as phase three, which is the main -- which would constitute the main body of the force in Darfur.

So we are now at the point where the AU and the UN need to work out some of the modalities in terms of command structure and that command relationship. But more importantly, the donor -- the member-states of the UN need to now make the commitments of troops to that AU/UN force so that we can see if President Bashir will act on his commitments that he has made. Should he not do so then, we have a number of different options that are available to us both as an individual country as well as an international system. And I'm not going to get into any description of what those may be at this point, but we have a number of different levers at our disposal.

QUESTION: To the extent that phase one is still pending, we are almost six weeks deep into 2007 -- the number we were told the other day was at 85 were there. You say 40, alright it's one or the other or in between. And there's supposed to be 180 going in there. Is Bashir responsible for any of the slow movement on implementation of phase one or is this simply logistical problems that the UN faces because it's such a remote area?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I can't ascribe percentages for you, George. But I think this has more to do with the UN and the AU getting in place the logistics and the infrastructure that would support not only phase one and phase two, but down the road, phase three. And so that's one bottleneck. Another bottleneck is actually having member-states pony up forces for this effort. We have heard from several countries expressions of interest that they will contribute to this force. I'm not going to get into -- not going to start naming names at this point. But what we need is a few member-states to step forward, make the firm commitment that they are going to contribute substantial forces to the AU/UN force. That's what's needed. We haven't seen that yet. And it is important that the international system act in this regard. We'll be doing our part in encouraging UN member-states to make those contributions. We have demarches that have gone out to a number of capitols around the world and working -- as well as working with ambassadors here in Washington. So we're actively engaged in the effort to try to constitute this AU/UN force.

Yeah, Sylvie

QUESTION: You said that you have a number of individual options at your disposal. Are financial options studied?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, I'm not going to -- I know there is an article in the newspaper today in talking about various options that were -- had been approved, should we move into plan B. I'm not going to get into that. But suffice it to say, we're taking a look at all the options that are available to us and we are going to base our decision of whether or not we move into a plan B phase on the facts on the ground. Ultimately you have to see if President Bashir acts on the principle commitment that he made. Should he not, then we'll take a look at all those options that are available to us and choose the ones that we think might be most effective in getting to the ultimate goal and that is getting a force into Darfur so that you can provide some security, help provide security not only for the people, but the humanitarian relief organizations there so that they -- those people can get what they need in order to sustain themselves and ultimately help push forward the political process, implement the Darfur Peace Agreement.

QUESTION: Andrew Natsios was in China recently. Did you get the impression that China was ready to help you on that and even on this plan B?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well they said that they have -- they have said that well, with respect to plan B, I think that that's something that we're taking a look at. We would obviously consult with others on various elements of it. In terms of the Chinese commitment we have heard positive signals from the Chinese Government as far back as the Secretary's discussion with Foreign Minister Li at the UN General Assembly in the fall of last year. And there have been subsequent discussions the Secretary has had, Andrew Natsios has had. So there's a receptivity I think on the part of the Chinese to working with the international system to try to get at the humanitarian issues there to help the international community get this force deployed. I'm not saying making any contributions. I don't think anybody's talked about that. But help create the environment where this force can be deployed. Now, I understand President Hu recently visited Sudan. I understand that he also had a discussion with President Bashir on the topic of Darfur. I don't have the details of that conversation. The public signals were mixed in this regard. On one hand, on the positive side, you have the Chinese Government talking in more forthright terms about the exchange between President Hu and President Bashir on the issue of Darfur and the Chinese being fairly forward-leaning on the need to have the force enter Darfur, be allowed to enter Darfur. On the other hand, you also had the announcement of a number of other economic agreements and the construction of a presidential palace, so I think that that, at best, sends some mixed signals in public. I can't speak to what went on in private.

QUESTION: Yeah, one is words and one is actions. It looks like the actions may be speaking louder than those words he said about Darfur.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, like I said, George, I don't know. I don't have the details of the exchange in private. But we're going to continue working with the Chinese to see what they can do to apply any appropriate pressure to get that force in there.

QUESTION: You're suggesting skepticism about Bashir's willingness to go ahead with this. Can you use that word yourself?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, at this point, George, I'm not going to use that word. He has sent a letter. We've taken at his -- that -- his word at face value that he is committed to all phase -- implementing all three phases of the Addis agreement. Because of where we are with the -- in the force generation for the AU/UN force, he has not had a real opportunity to act on the more significant aspects of that package, phases two and three. So it's at this point, I think, premature to answer the question of whether or not he will follow through on that commitment, that principled commitment. We'll see.

In order to determine that, you need to have the forces generated to go in there, and we don't have those yet. And that's why it is so important that the member-states of the UN step up and answer the call for these forces.

QUESTION: Once the force is assembled, will Bashir be given some kind of set deadline that he's going to accept them or not?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, because of the timelines involved in generating the forces and the infrastructure, this doesn't happen -- this won't happen next week. You're not going to end up with the 15,000-plus forces and the third phase ready to go next week. So there will be some time.

Necessarily there will have to be some back and forth between the AU/UN and Sudan. I can't tell you what timeline they're operating on. I know that the UN peacekeeping operation has a standard playbook, if you will, in terms of timelines. We think that they should look at every possible way to shorten those timelines. So we'll see. The basic answer is we don't know yet because we're not there. We still have these required steps that we need to go through generating the force.

Jonathan.

QUESTION: So what is that timeline the UN is suggesting then? Sorry, I didn't quite --

MR. MCCORMACK: You can talk to them about their own internal timelines.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did you get a chance to see the Japanese Foreign Minister's comments calling the U.S. Iraq policy immature?

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, I still have not looked at those. I have to take a look at them, sorry.

QUESTION: I have a question on Turkey.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. Gul said yesterday that the Armenia bill represent a serious threat to the relation with the United States. Actually, he said, "An acceptance of this Armenia bill will have a serious effect on the relation between United States and Turkey." Do you agree with him?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's his assessment. We take him at his word. We understand the sensitivities in Turkey. We also understand the sensitivities in other communities in the U.S. and other places around the world. We are talking to the Congress about this. I think Foreign Minister Gul and the Turkish Government is well aware of our system of government and they understand that Congress is an independent branch. We are, however, in close contact with members of Congress on the issue and we have conveyed to them the sensitivities expressed to us by the Turkish Government concerning this particular resolution.

Sylvie.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION:   The Secretary welcomed this morning the proposal of Mr. Lantos to -- for a new law to allow the U.S. to participate in this international bank for nuclear fuel. Did you -- what kind of contribution the U.S. could do to this bank and --

MR. MCCORMACK:   I'm playing catch-up on this one, Sylvie. We'll have to get you an answer. Yeah, I'll get you an answer.

Okay.

QUESTION: Something else that Rice was questioned on today, Iran, and there was some discussion that the Iranians were prepared to recognize Israel or this idea was being floated.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I think she addressed it pretty clearly. She said that if either somebody had told her that the Iranians were proposing that or some -- or she had read that in some of the papers that flowed into her office, she would have remembered. And she doesn't remember any such thing.

Yes, Jonathan.

QUESTION: But she was also asked about the dossier, which she didn't answer. A Democrat congressman wanted to know what had happened to this dossier. Is there anything you can update us on this? I mean, is it now just -- you know, on the backburner because you haven't got the evidence?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. You know, I was trying to tell you guys for the past week about this; that is, we're going to do this on our own timeline. We're going to do it in such a way that the presentation is clear, that it is factual, that it is to the point. But more importantly, we're going to do it in such a way that does not inhibit our ability to collect further such information in the future. Basically, you don't want to burn your sources and methods.

So all of those things considered, we are taking our time in putting this together. I'm sure that at some point, at a time of -- at a time that everybody is comfortable with, we will put it out there. But it's not for lack of a rich fact base. It is -- has more to do with all the considerations that I've just outlined.

QUESTION: Have you seen a draft of it yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen it yet, no.

QUESTION: Do you know why some people are doubting your -- the real explanations? Don't you think the risk to -- not to be taken seriously, not --

MR. MCCORMACK: We're not worried about that. We're not worried about that. There are always going to be people, doubters, critics, skeptics. That's fine. We accept that. But just because some people may be holding their breath here and pounding their fists on the table, it's not going to influence us in hurrying through something that we don't think is ready or appropriate to do at this time.

All right, thanks a lot, guys.

QUESTION: One more.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh --

QUESTION: Sorry about that.

MR. MCCORMACK: A late breaker, okay, yeah.

QUESTION: As you know, President Musharraf visited Ankara yesterday and he and Prime Minister Erdogan have agreed on new initiative for Israel-Palestine conflict. My question is about that. What is the United States stance on this issue? Does the U.S. support these new efforts?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I understand it, President Musharraf has made some recent trips around the globe to Arab Muslim states and some non-Arab Muslim states to talk about a couple of the different issues. One, to -- how they can band together to address the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and two, also how to, in some way, address the divide within the Muslim community between the Sunni and Shia.

And at this point, I'd say that we want to learn more about the details of their initiative. As a general comment, any initiatives by responsible parties such as Pakistan or Indonesia or Egypt or Turkey in trying to tackle some of these tough issues in a responsible way are welcome. But I'm going to defer any specific comment until we have a better understanding of what it is that is being proposed. As I understand it now, it's still taking shape.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Oh, where have you been all the briefing?

QUESTION: Well, you know, some --

MR. MCCORMACK: Coming in here at the end.

QUESTION: Someone is testifying. I actually have a question about something that the Secretary talked about this morning about Kosovo. She said she has assured Russia that Kosovo is not a precedent for anything. Did she mean some areas of the former Soviet Union that Russia might be concerned about?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, this has been the Russian -- this has been a Russian argument in public that they have made that a solution that in some form granted autonomy or independence for Kosovo might set -- might be a precedent for some of the (inaudible) conflicts that are in the North Caucasus, you know, with respect to Abkhazia and South Ossetia and there are a couple others as well.

And it has been our view that the set of facts related to Kosovo are unique and do not constitute a precedent for those other conflicts in the Caucasus or any other particular conflict.

QUESTION: What about the Albanian -- well, are there any concerns that there'll be an effect of some sort on the Albanian community in Macedonia because it's right by Kosovo in terms of we know there were hostilities there only -- well, less than five years ago.

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't speak to it specifically, Nicholas. There are concerns about what happens with Kosovo throughout the Balkans because, as we've learned over the past 15, 20 years, the ethnic mixes in that part of the world can be combustible. And what the international community has attempted to do over the past 15 -- 10, 15 years is to find ways that those communities can resolve any differences peacefully and that they can coexist together in peace within that same space.

So whenever you move one piece of this puzzle, it might have effects throughout other parts of that region; of course you have to take those into consideration and people are very carefully consulting throughout the region with anybody who might be interested in the issue of Kosovo.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more question on Iran, please?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Lavrov is in Tehran again. Do you see this as any indication that Russia is exerting more pressure ahead of this IAEA report?

MR. MCCORMACK: The Russians have played a positive role in trying to convince the Iranians to be responsible actors. Unfortunately, thus far the Iranians have refused to heed the advice of Russia. Secretary Rice had good conversations with the Foreign Minister about Iran and I think we have a clear idea of where the Russians stand vis--vis Iran. We're going to be talking to them as well as others in the run-up to this report from Director General ElBaradei and the deadline that comes up, I think on the 21st, that's in the UN Security Council resolution about what we might do next.

But they are playing a responsible role in trying to convince the Iranians to come around and accept the offer that's been laid out there for them.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense that the Russian position has changed or is changing?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. I think that we all share the same objective. There have been differences over tactics and how hard to push and how fast, but we have worked through those. We got a 15-0 vote. So we're going to continue standing shoulder to shoulder on this, and when we have differences over tactics we'll work them out.

Nicholas, again.

QUESTION: Just one quick one. The Secretary also said this morning that she plans to meet with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to talk about the Iraq issue that you talked about yesterday.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Has that meeting been scheduled? Do you know if it will be here or over in Geneva?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it will be here.

QUESTION: It will be here?

MR. MCCORMACK: He's coming here, I think next week. What's today's date? Today's the --

QUESTION: The 7th.

MR. MCCORMACK: The 7th. Yeah, it'll be next week.

QUESTION: Sorry. At her request, that is?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think he had a scheduled meeting with Paula Dobriansky on humanitarian issues and I think we also scheduled a meeting for him with the Secretary.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Is that it? Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:55 p.m.)

DPB # 22



Released on February 7, 2007

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