|Daily Press Briefing|
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
May 7, 2007
12:15 p.m. EST
12:15 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I have two brief announcements for you. The first concerns the deaths of the Multinational Force Observers in Sinai over the weekend.
The Department of State is saddened by the deaths of nine MFO, Multinational Forces and Observers peacekeepers. It included eight French and one Canadian who were killed in a tragic accident when their plane crashed during a training mission in the Sinai Peninsula on May 6. We express our deepest condolences to the families and colleagues of the victims as well as to the Governments of France and Canada.
And also, just one quick trip announcement regarding the Secretary's travel. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Moscow May 14th and 15th for meetings with senior government officials and representatives of civil society. Her discussions with Russian Federation leaders will cover a wide range of bilateral and global issues including Iran, Kosovo, Israeli-Palestinian concerns and missile defense. And we'll have more for you on the specific meetings as we get closer to the departure date.
With that, I'd be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Any other stops?
MR. MCCORMACK: We may add some other stops, so we'll keep you up to date on that.
QUESTION: I have a question -- if you guys don't want to go.
MR. MCCORMACK: Feel free to jump in.
QUESTION: Sean, NBC did an interview with President Assad today in Syria.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: And I wanted to get your reaction to a couple of things he said. He told us that the U.S. is not doing enough inside Iraq to stop the flow of foreign fighters, so on the Iraq side of the border, the U.S. isn't doing enough. He also said it's impossible for him to seal the entire border of Syria and Iraq, so he doesn't know who's crossing and doesn't know who's coming in all of the time.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: He said the U.S. has provided no evidence and only allegations of the flow of foreign fighters coming in.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: He said he has no interest in supporting the insurgency in Iraq because it would only cause chaos for his country.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: And he said you also can't solve any problems -- any of these problems without talking to each other. So --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: There is a whole list of things he was sort of lobbing at the United States and I'm wondering what your reaction is.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, we wouldn't really have to police the border if there weren't an inflow of foreign fighters coming in through Syria and I would point out that they don't just fly into -- fly in with helicopters to the border region and then cross over; they fly in through Damascus Airport, then travel out to the border region and across into Iraq. And the Syrian authorities themselves have previously actually clamped down on the flow of those individuals traveling in from outside of Syria headed in towards Iraq via Damascus Airport, so they know well how to do this.
Secretary Rice had a meeting on the margins of the Iraq International Compact meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh just several days ago. This was -- it was a professional, business-like meeting in which the Secretary encouraged the Syrian Government to do what it can to enhance stability in Iraq. She made the point that that is in Iraq's interest and Syria's interest as well.
It's important to note that very oftentimes, when you have a country that serves as a transit point for jihadists, that oftentimes, those jihadists either don't go back to their original destination or they decide that they like that transit point better than their final destination and that's a -- that would be a negative thing for Syria's long-term stability. So it's in Syria's interest to take care of this problem and to address it and we'll see if they do. As I said, it is in their interest and we'll see if they take this opportunity to follow through, with actions, their words when they say that they have an interest in a secure, stable Iraq.
QUESTION: Were you able to follow up at all in what Caldwell said that last week, that there seemed to be some improvement in the Syrians in controlling this flow of --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I don't have any other information beyond what he has done. This is the reporting that we get from our Multinational Force colleagues in Baghdad, that they have noticed some improvements along the border. We would hope that that would continue and that you actually see a trend in the Syrian Government acting to control -- better control that border. Of course, the Iraqi forces are going to need to do what they can to help control their own border, so there are two sides to this, but you don't have a problem to begin with if there isn't that flow of foreign extremists coming in via Syria.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary present any evidence of this that the U.S. has? Did she present that to the Syrians?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, it wasn't that kind of meeting and frankly, they full well understand what the issue is.
QUESTION: Could you expand at all on what you said this morning in the gaggle about Sarkozy's election in France and what this means for U.S.-French relations? Are the days of freedom fries and punishing the French really over or are you going to more wait and see?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, those days, I would argue, are already well behind us. Look, there was -- Colin Powell had the great -- had the best line on this; you know, the U.S. and France have had a marriage of 200 years and we've been in marriage counseling for much of that. Look, there have been ups and downs in the relationship and that was a difficult moment, the frictions over whether or not to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
We have all put that in the past and we are working very closely with the French Government on a number of different issues. We have great cooperation on issues from Lebanon to Iran, to dealing with the combat against terrorism, to fighting nuclear nonproliferation around the world, to dealing with Afghanistan and the issue of missile defense. So there are a wide variety of areas in which we're, you know, cooperating very well with the French Government and it goes without saying that the U.S. and France have deep cultural ties as well.
As for President-Elect Sarkozy's government, his plans, we'll see. We'll see in what ways his foreign policy will differ from President Chirac's. But I'm confident that we will find many areas in which we can work very closely together.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) more than --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to -- I'm not -- look, we had a good relationship with President Chirac and his government. There have been bumps in the past and I'm not going to try to deny that. Absolutely, there have been, but we've gotten over that.
MR. MCCORMACK: We've moved beyond that period. And as for -- you know, as for what direction, new opportunities for cooperation there might be, well. We'll see.
QUESTION: So do you think that your relationship -- the U.S. relationship with America's oldest ally is back on track?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it has been for some time, Matt. I think -- look, when Secretary Rice made her first trip as Secretary of State to Europe, she stopped in Paris and there was a real sense at that time that on the French side and the American side, that we wanted to put the differences of the preceding couple of years behind us. And there was a real effort that went into that. And I -- one of the manifestations of that you saw was working very closely together on Iran -- the whole P-5+1 process. I think that from a standpoint of multilateral diplomacy, that has been a model for how we would like to work with other important allies to address, you know, real challenges not only to us but to the international system.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment whatsoever on the fact that the candidate who openly seeks better relations with the United States won the election and the candidate who showed no interest in good friendly relations with the United States lost?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't -- I'm not going to try to characterize the candidate's positions as exactly that -- you say that's what they are, you know, I'll take that on face value. To get into why one candidate won over another in the French election is really sort of well beyond my analytical powers about the French electorate. Look, we look forward to working with President-elect Sarkozy. He will outline his foreign policy agenda in the days, weeks and months ahead, and I'm sure that there are going to be areas where we are able to work very closely together.
QUESTION: Are you looking for, say, a more assertive French policy with respect to Darfur?
MR. MCCORMACK: Certainly, we could look to France as well as other countries, including China, for more help on Darfur. I'm not trying to single out France, but I think that the international system really has to step up on the issue of Darfur. They have to step up in pressuring the Sudanese Government to accept the phase three package and also step up in providing logistics support, supplying troops that would comprise that AU/UN hybrid force. Now, I'm not singling out France as a troop contributor, but we would ask France as well as any other country to do what they can.
The U.S. has been in the lead on this issue and we've done a lot. And I don't think that this issue would be at the forefront of the world's foreign policy agenda without the attention the United States has put to this issue. But we're going to need the assistance of other countries around the world if we are going to get at the root causes here, and the first step in that is getting the AU/UN hybrid force so you can help stabilize the security situation. That will allow greater humanitarian efforts and ultimately the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement, which is going to be the only way that you truly get at a way of ending the terrific violence that is going on there.
QUESTION: Have you looked into the question of whether French cooperation would be needed in the establishment of a no-fly zone for Darfur?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I know that that's been an idea that's been kicked around in the international community. I'm not aware that countries at this point are ready to take that step. But clearly, if you were going to have a no-fly zone, it would require a real international effort, require the assistance of the French Government in the diplomacy, and perhaps with respect to supplying logistics as well as other materials. But at this point, I'm not sure that the international system has decided to take that step.
QUESTION: North Korea -- on this report in a South Korean newspaper that a South Korean Government entity bank will take delivery of the frozen $25 million. Any truth to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: You'll have to check with the South Korean Government on that. I know that the North Koreans are actively working through their banking situation. They have not, to my knowledge, come to a resolution of it. They haven't -- we haven't been officially informed that the funds have been transferred. So I know that the North Koreans -- and we do know that the North Koreans are looking at a variety of different options, none of which at this point have panned out, but they certainly could.
We're willing to give this a little bit more time. I'll repeat what the President has said: There is not an infinite amount of time, but we believe it's worthwhile to give this some time to work out because the issues at stake are too important. We want to get back to the six-party talks where we can focus on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and then also working with North Korea so that they can realize a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world.
QUESTION: The same newspaper story, I believe, said that the United States had -- the U.S. Government had approved this idea of the South Korean bank taking delivery of the money, its provenance notwithstanding.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Is that true?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I think that story goes a little bit far. I think that story goes a little bit far.
QUESTION: So that's wrong? You haven't approved it?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would say that that story takes it a little bit far. But I would -- you know, check with the South Korean Government as to what discussions, if any, they may be having with the North Koreans about that particular option.
QUESTION: It also said that the U.S. Government had rejected the idea of a bank in New York taking the money. Is that true?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, the North Koreans are working through a variety of different options and we'll see which one they settle on as workable. I would imagine that anything involving a United States bank would have to pass muster with the Department of Treasury just as a general statement.
QUESTION: Why isn't your patience on this infinite? You clearly want to get them to denuclearize. Why not wait months, years, if it takes that to unwind the Treasury options*?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, at a certain point, the process itself runs out of momentum and you start to question the good faith of all the parties in actually pushing forward the process of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. We're not at that point yet. But you ask the question, well, why not wait years? Well, clearly, the issues are important and they're important to the stability of that region, the long-term stability of that region, as well as to the stability of the Asia Pacific region. But at this point, we are prepared to give this a bit more time.
QUESTION: On Sarkozy.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: I believe he's been in Washington in recent months.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you comment on any meetings he's had with officials, the Secretary or --
MR. MCCORMACK: He did meet with the Secretary when he was here. I can't remember exactly when. I think it was the past six to nine months that he was here.
QUESTION: Did --
MR. MCCORMACK: They had a good meeting. They had a good conversation and developed, I think, a good relationship.
QUESTION: Any congratulatory calls?
MR. MCCORMACK: President Bush telephoned President-elect Sarkozy, I believe, yesterday.
QUESTION: Can you say how the government is going to follow this week Waxman's meetings with Iranian and Syrian representatives?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, in terms of the Syrian representatives, we'll see. The way that the Syrian Foreign Minister left it with the Secretary was that that they -- he would go back to Damascus and consult with his government about what next steps they might take, and we'll see what we might do at a working level in the coming weeks and months on that issue. I think we'll wait to see what sort of steps the Syrian Government decides to take with respect to the border.
With respect to Iranian Government officials, there is a channel in Baghdad, the ambassadorial channel, that is open. It's open to both of us and it's one of which we can avail ourselves, either side. And that would be a channel that focuses on discussions regarding stability in Iraq and the security situation. So nothing to report in that regard at this point, but we'll try to keep you updated on that.
QUESTION: But weeks and months, not days?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would -- again, we'll keep you updated on it, but I would look for what happens in the coming weeks on both of those issues.
QUESTION: Can you talk more specifically about the steps you asked them to take?
MR. MCCORMACK: Who?
QUESTION: The Syrians, what steps you asked them to take with regards to their border.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not going to get into specifics, but there are a number of different things you can do. You can look at it at two levels. One, there is the actual dealing physically with control of the border and what more the Syrian Government might do in that regard.
There's another layer to this and that is actually stopping the foreign extremists coming into Syria at the airport. We've talked to them about that before. Obviously, there are a number of other steps in between that they might take to break up the networks that support these individuals as they kind of flow through the pipeline from Damascus into Iraq. So I'm not going to specify exactly what they might do, but the idea is just that: stop that pipeline, because it's in Syria's interest and it's in Iraq's interest.
QUESTION: So when President Assad says they don't know who the terrorists are, you don't believe him when he says that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I think they have -- I can't tell you if they know every single individual coming through there, but they understand, I suspect, in a general sense, if not in a specific sense, exactly what those networks are that support the individuals flowing from Damascus over the border into Iraq.
QUESTION: Still on Secretary Rice's travel. If I'm not mistaken, it had been expected that as part of this trip, which would take her to Moscow, that she was also going to have meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Is that not planned anymore? And does that mean she (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's possible that she could make a stop in the Middle East on this trip, although I would not expect it at -- on this trip that she would travel to Israel and the Palestinian areas. There is obviously a lot of politics in Israel that they're working through at this point, but we're going to continue our efforts to advance the Israeli-Palestinian track. And her -- if she does make a stop in the Middle East, I would look for her to focus on ways in which we might do that, although not necessarily stopping in Israel and Palestinian areas.
QUESTION: Is that a change in plans?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I would say it's a change in plans, yeah. But it doesn't -- it should in no way denote any -- less any of our focus on the issue and our determination to help the two parties move the process forward.
QUESTION: But it does denote a certain complexity of -- in the situation in Israel these days?
MR. MCCORMACK: The political situation in Israel has become a bit more complex in the near term. I think that that's safe for anybody to see, but we're working closely with the government of Prime Minister Olmert as well as the partners on the Palestinian side.
But all of that said, I -- we remain confident that we are going to be able to work closely with both sides to try to advance this process, and to help them along the pathway so that you can ultimately realize an Israel that is more secure, that has a neighbor that is committed to fighting terrorism, and for the Palestinians so that they can realize a Palestinian state.
QUESTION: This morning, I think you said in the context of the benchmarks that you look forward to having a more formal discussion about that within the next few weeks.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does that mean that you plan to or you're looking for a way to do a trip to the -- to Israel and the Palestinian territories in the next few weeks to follow up on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure -- we'll see with respect to the Secretary's schedule. On this next trip coming up, I don't expect her to stop there.
QUESTION: No, no, I get that, but --
MR. MCCORMACK: But it, whether -- for instance, David Welch or somebody else like that might go out there, umm, it could, well, I haven't checked with David on his travel schedule, but we're -- you know, this isn't meant as -- you know, a document that is written and cannot be changed. It's meant to be an iterative document that both sides -- we can work with both sides to add or subtract to its (inaudible) -- it's a starting point, really. And we keep saying, as well as our officials out there, Jake Walles and Dick Jones, have worked with -- presented this in an informal way to both sides, and I wouldn't be surprised if David at some point travels out there. And surely, the Secretary will be out there in the not-too-distant future.
QUESTION: Sean, you did mention the term earlier, which is civil society "building" or "strengthening," especially when the Secretary goes to Moscow.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: There are groups especially here in Washington and others in the Middle East that are working on that; more of the business side of the equation. They want to stamp out terrorism. Now, last week you issued a terrorism report. Would it be helpful to bring out a report more on a weekly basis to pinpoint where some of this activity is? You constantly mention it in a general sense, but more a specific sense to let possibly some of these terrorists and insurgents know that we know that they know so that they will begin to see that there are other ways around just fomenting trouble.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Joel, I don't know if a weekly report is the way to do that. And certainly, there -- we have people every single day who are engaged in efforts to prevent terrorist attacks, to break up terrorist networks. But more importantly, we are working in support of expanded freedoms throughout the Middle East and cultural exchanges, people-to-people dialogues, that really get at some of the root issues that lead to people turning to violent extremism as a way of expressing their unhappiness with the government or their situation vis-à-vis the rest of the world.
QUESTION: Foreign Minister Aso said last week when he was here in Washington that he talked to Ambassador Hill and that Ambassador Hill had told him that he was -- he'd like to visit Pyongyang. Do you have anything on that or any plans at all?
MR. MCCORMACK: At some point, that may come to pass. There are no plans for that at the current moment. That kind of visit would mean that there was a -- the beginnings of a different kind of relationship between North Korea and the rest of the world. But at the current moment, I don't foresee that.
QUESTION: Have you asked this morning about Secretary Hill's travel plans? Does he have any to go to Europe or anywhere else in the near term?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, I didn't check on that.
MR. CASEY: We did, and no, he has no foreign travel plans.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there we are. No foreign travel plans at this time.
QUESTION: Any Levinson updates?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:33 p.m.)
DPB # 81
Released on May 7, 2007