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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 8, 2007

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT

Retirement of Director General George Staples / Transformational Diplomacy
Under Secretary Burns Travel to Berlin / G-8 Conference

IRAQ

Secretary Rice’s Meeting with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Salih
Need for Iraqi Government to Move Forward on Reforms, Pass Legislation
Upcoming Two-Month Recess / Might Not Send the Right Signal

IRAN

Under Secretary Burns’ Upcoming Meeting with the P5+1
Upcoming Solana-Larijani Meetings
Iranians Can Not Be Allowed to Practice Centrifuge Cascades During Negotiations

WORLD BANK

U.S. Support for Paul Wolfowitz to Continue as Head of the World Bank
Administrative Review Should Not Be a Distraction to the World Bank’s Work

SUDAN

Amnesty International Report / Illicit Flow of Arms Into Darfur Contrary to UNSC
Prudent for Countries to Exercise Vigilance When Trading With the Sudan
Efforts of UN Secretary General / Positive Signs / China’s Participation

NORTH KOREA

U.S. Willing to Give Process More Time / DPRK’s Commitment to Agreements
Informal Contact Between the IAEA and North Korea
Money Laundering Concerns with Banco Delta Asia
Accusations that Banco Delta Asia Informed the U.S. of the Laundering Issue

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. Takes Every Possible Step to Protect Civilians During Military Operations
U.S. Working on Afghans Behalf to Help Them Build a Better Country

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

U.S. Continuing to Work with Israelis, Palestinians to Move the Process Forward
Benchmarks Will Be an Iterative Process / Mechanism to Address Issues
U.S. Continuing to Work with Israel and Prime Minister Olmert

SERBIA

Complicating Language Used During Parliamentary Debates / Cooler Rhetoric Needed

ALBANIA

Secretary’s Meeting with the Albanian Foreign Minister / Kosovo / NATO / Reforms
New Albanian Foreign Minister / Important Time for Southeast Europe


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:15 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I have one brief personnel announcement then we can get right into your questions.

The Secretary announced at this morning's staff meeting that George Staples, the Director General of the Foreign Service, is going to be retiring from the Foreign Service coming up in July, so he will have by that time served a little bit over a year in the role of Director General of the Foreign Service at a very challenging time as we are working to get more people out into the field, out from behind their desk, move people from various places in Western Europe and other posts, to the posts where we believe that they are needed more and basically helping to restructure the Foreign Service so that it meets the needs and challenges of the 21st century as opposed to the 20th century. So certainly we're going to miss George. He has several more months on the job here but he will depart with the Secretary's best wishes as well as thanks for a job well done. And I expect in the near future the White House will probably have a personnel announcement as to who we might nominate as George's successor.

QUESTION: Can you say how much of the transformation will have been complete by the time --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's a start. These are going to be changes that take place over a long period of time. For example, the initial shifting of personnel resources from some of the posts in Western Europe, and it doesn't mean to imply that those posts are any less important to us; it just means that when we took a look -- when the Secretary came in she took a look at where our resources were allocated. She thought that it was unbalanced. For example, we had as many political officers in Germany when you totaled them up as we did in India -- a country with over a billion people. And she thought that that was an imbalance. Again, we're not picking on Germany here. It's an important relationship, important country for us to have representation in. But she thought that it was important to restructure how we are arrayed around the world to meet 21st century realities. It's going to take some time, Matt, for all of these changes just because of the way the personnel system works for them to be fully realized.

But we expect over time that you're going to see a shifting of resources of several hundred if not more over time. So it's an important initiative that the Secretary had. George was crucial in carrying out this initiative and making sure that it happened in such a way that people understood what was going on, the reasons for it and really having this unroll -- unfold in a quite smooth manner as well as adjusting how we do our assignment processes for those people who are bidding on some of the most difficult assignments we have in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere around the world. So he's really been instrumental in carrying out the Secretary's vision and certainly he has the Secretary's thanks as well as the thanks of all his colleagues.

QUESTION: Why can't you just acknowledge that, you know, it may well be now that your posts in Baghdad, Beijing, New Delhi are, in fact, more important than your traditional posts in Western Europe, countries with which you have very good relations?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't --

QUESTION: I'm not trying to diss them, but certainly surely does reflect --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I know --

QUESTION: -- the fact these places are more important. They have to do with national security interests.

MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't say that -- I'm not going to try to judge them one against the other, saying that the embassy in New Delhi is more important than the embassy in Berlin because I just don't believe that's true. But it was an imbalance in the resources where you had more resources allocated to the embassy in Berlin than you might have had to the embassy in New Delhi and there was a real need in terms of the activity going on there, the reporting going on. You had -- this is a, you know, a country that has experienced significant economic as well as population growth since the last time we looked at how our resources are allocated. So she thought it was time to take a comprehensive and global look to see how we're arrayed around the world and to make sure that those resources that we had matched against our foreign policy objectives.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout on the Secretary's meeting with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Salih?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have to admit I wasn't in it, so I haven't talked to her about it. I can tell you what was on her mind as she went into the meeting and that was to talk about the important steps that the Iraqi Government is now considering regarding reconciliation and some of the political and economic reforms that it has before it and that it is pushing, whether that's de-Baathification or passage of a national oil law and the accompanying financial legislation. So she was talking to him about where those things stood. She was going to talk to him about the neighbors conference and the very clear message of support that the Iraqi Government heard from the neighbors in undertaking these tasks of reconciliation and economic and political reform, as well as trying to stabilize the security situation.

So there's a real message of support coming out of Sharm el-Sheikh and there was also a message that you heard from all of the neighbors in Sharm el-Sheikh that the Iraqi Government needs to move forward on these reforms and passage of the reconciliation legislation. And frankly, that's something the American people want to see too. We all have a stake in Iraq. The Iraqi Government clearly needs to deliver on behalf of the Iraqi people. Iraq's neighbors want to see it succeed. In order to do so, the Iraqi Government needs to fulfill the objectives that it laid out for itself and certainly, the American people want to see that as well.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Will we hear any more information on Nick Burns, his travel plans?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. We'll come back to you, David. Yeah.

QUESTION: Just -- can you say whether the Secretary also passed on a message regarding the recess of the Iraqi Parliament?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if she specifically raised it, but our very clear view, which I know we have passed on to the Iraqi Government in other channels, is that a two-month long recess might not be this -- a two-month-long recess this summer might not be the right step or it might not send the right signal to the Iraqi people about the importance and urgency of passing the legislation that they have before it.

Everybody agrees that you have to address an insurgency via security forces and military means, but you also need to get at the root causes of it, some of the political angst that might be underlying it, a political difference that might be underlying those who -- those people who resort to violence. And part of addressing that is passing this legislation and they -- the Iraqi Government needs to do so on -- with a focused effort and really meet the objectives that they've laid out for themselves. These are the benchmarks that they've laid out for themselves. We didn't come up with them. They came up with them. And they need to be seen in the eyes of the Iraqi people as delivering for the Iraqi people.

Yeah, David.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, Nick is leaving this afternoon and he's -- the actual genesis for this is the -- a meeting of the G8 political directors, so this is in preparation for the G8 foreign ministers meeting at the end of this month, which is in preparation for the G8 summit in June.

So he's going to take the opportunity of those meetings, of basically having all of his colleagues in the P-5+1 minus China, to have a separate session on Iran. And the Chinese representative is going to join via either video or teleconference and they're going to have a discussion, as we talked about earlier this morning, about where we stand with Iran, what Mr. Solana heard during their last meeting, what is the strategy going forward for the next meeting between Mr. Solana and Mr. Larijani and how can we underscore our hope that the Iranian Government will take us up, meaning the P-5+1, on the offer that we've laid out for them.

QUESTION: Has anything changed since -- I mean, they met a week ago in London, so has anything changed in the last six, seven days?

MR. MCCORMACK: I know that there's been some thinking about this next meeting and what it is --

QUESTION: It's the next meeting with Larijani and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Solana -- yeah, Solana and Larijani and what it is that Mr. Solana might convey to the Iranians in that meeting.

QUESTION: And where is this G-8 meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Berlin.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, Lambros --

QUESTION: Can I have a quick one on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are they actually talking -- going to be talking about the possibility and maybe elements of a new resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: New elements of a Security Council resolution?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- at this point, I don't think that will be on the agenda this meeting. I think they're going to focus more on the immediate of the upcoming meeting between Solana and Larijani.

QUESTION: Will Solana be at this meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you. I think he -- well, no, Solana would not, but an EU representative will be.

QUESTION: And Sean, why do they need to focus on that when -- while the content of Solana's last set of talks with Larijani is hard to pin down --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Everything that you have said since then and Administration officials and, indeed, officials in other capitals fairly consistently seems to be; no, we're not going to accept anything less than full suspension for full suspension. So why do you need so much -- why do you need an actual -- another meeting to talk about this unless you are somehow weakening in that view and --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I -- no, we are -- no, we're not weakening in that view, but you also want to talk about diplomatically, how can we accomplish our objectives and how, in our approach to the Iranians, we can make it clear that they can realize a different kind of relationship with us, potentially, and the rest of the world if they sit down at the negotiating table vice engaging in these exercises in defiance that they have been over the past year-and-a-half. So we want to make sure that we are able to maximize every possible opportunity without walking back on principle and the principle here is important. The principle is that they -- while we are talking can't be allowed to practice and get good at running centrifuge cascades because that defeats the whole -- from our perspective, defeats the whole purpose of talking. They can just let talks go on and on and on and on and on; meanwhile, they become more expert at running centrifuges. At this point, they've been able to install several cascades as reported by the IAEA.

And so it isn't necessarily a scientific problem; it's an engineering problem. How is that they can master -- that they can master tying these cascades together so that they can enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. So that's the reason why the principle is important. But we want to, obviously, because they are moving forward with this program, we want to make sure that every interaction that our representative -- meaning Mr. Solana -- has with the Iranians is the most effective interaction that it can be, so we want to talk about that, talk about the strategy for that meeting and talk about how he might approach the Iranians.

Yeah, Nina. Oh, same subject, yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Does the so-called double time out concept fit with the --

MR. MCCORMACK: The double time out?

QUESTION: Well, it's widely reported it would involve Iran not -- not developing any further its enrichment activity and the P-5+1 would not put any additional sanctions on Tehran. This is something that apparently has come out of Larijani's talks with Solana.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, in principle, you know, anything that adheres to the idea of suspension of their enrichment-related activities in return for suspension of further activity in the Security Council is something that we have signed onto. Now, the devil is in the details as you might imagine with this sort of offer. So if there's something new from the Iranian side with respect to ceasing or suspending their enrichment-related activities, certainly that would be something Mr. Solana would be very interested in hearing about, but thus far we haven't heard that. But there's no give on the idea that in order to realize negotiations and in order to realize a suspension of action within the Security Council, the Iranians need to suspend their enrichment-related activities for all the reasons we were just talking about a minute ago.

Nina.

QUESTION: I'd like to ask about Wolfowitz, particularly your comments this morning and comments we've seen from the White House, there seems to be a change in tone, a change in language. Can you tell me the extent of your current support for Mr. Wolfowitz and your involvement?

MR. MCCORMACK: Certainly, my comments weren't intended to signal any weakening of our support for Bank president Wolfowitz. As the President has said, we firmly support Mr. Wolfowitz continuing as president of the World Bank. We understand that there are internal processes underway within the bank. My comments were only intended to signal to you that we're not trying to interfere in an administrative matter within the World Bank and I think everybody would agree that is appropriate.

Now on the separate question of whether or not Mr. Wolfowitz should continue as head of the World Bank, absolutely. That has been and remains our position.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you taking a more hands-off approach? I mean, have things changed or --

MR. MCCORMACK: No. No, I don't think that we have been involved in the administrative processes within the World Bank to this point. And I don't think anybody would expect that we would be. It's a matter -- inside the World Bank having to do with a personnel matter in which we are not involved. Now, as I said before, there comes up the larger question of support for Mr. Wolfowitz and we have -- the President has made very clear that we continue to support him and I'm reiterating that today.

QUESTION: What about concerns that the controversy at the Bank is discouraging countries from making international aid contributions?

MR. MCCORMACK: I find it hard to believe that as described in the press the current administrative personnel matter within the World Bank would really serve as a distraction to those truly committed to alleviating poverty around the world and truly committed to the cause of development around the world, lifting people up out of disadvantaged circumstances so that they can realize their full human potential. I find it hard to believe that this administrative review within the World Bank really is a distraction to those truly committed to those goals.

QUESTION: Sean, isn't it a fundamental question of integrity if the president of the World Bank -- I mean, surely there has been so much press about this, surely it has become a distraction now.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, yeah, there has been a lot of press about it. And, you know, I'm not going to comment on the particular administrative matter within the World Bank. It's not in my purview. But there are real issues of alleviating the dire circumstances of millions of people around the world at stake. When you're talking about whether or not countries are going to participate in funding the World Bank and participate in World Bank programs, I don't think any discussion of the other matter should really impinge upon the real focus and where it should be and that is on helping out people who are in need.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) isn't it getting to the point where it is becoming a worldwide distraction? It's in the news every day.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's right. I'm not sure that there is news every day, but it certainly is in the news every day.

QUESTION: Sean, do you have any independent corroboration of the Amnesty International report about Chinese and Russian arms deliveries to Sudan?

MR. MCCORMACK: I asked about this and we don't. We haven't -- in this sense, David, we don't have a copy of the report, so we haven't reviewed it. We can't -- I can't comment on any particular accusations in there.

Here are a couple of things. We do know that there is, by the Sudanese Government, an illicit flow of arms into Darfur, contrary to Security Council resolutions, so we know that. We don't know at this point the origins of those arms from who provided those arms, so I can't tell you. We also know that there are a variety of different countries with different kinds of economic and trade relationships with the Government of Sudan, with Khartoum. China's one of those and I'll leave it to the Chinese Government to describe for themselves whether or not they sell arms to Khartoum.

But in light of the fact that we do know, the international system knows, that there is an illicit flow of arms into Darfur. It would seem prudent to exercise an abundance of caution in any kind of trade relationship with Khartoum that involves the sale of weapons. Now, I'm not making any particular linkages here. I mean, I don't have the information to do so. But we would think that given the set of facts that we have that it would be prudent for states to ensure and be particularly vigilant that anything that they are selling or providing to the government of Khartoum doesn't end up either in Darfur or being used against those people in Darfur.

QUESTION: What about even more strict sanctions banning ships that have transported Sudanese oil and implementing a no-fly zone over Darfur, some of the suggestions made --

MR. MCCORMACK: There are a lot of constructive suggestions out there all aimed at how do we make the situation better in Darfur, which means how do you get the AU-UN force in there. Now we have said that we're going to give Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a bit of time to work on the issue. He felt as though that several weeks ago he had made some progress with the Sudanese and there are some positive signs. The Chinese have provided some personnel for construction units for -- that would help support the phase two of the heavy support package.

Now -- but the bottom line here is we haven't gotten to the Sudanese Government saying that they are going to allow in the AU-UN force and that's the key. So we'll -- we are considering what next steps we might take, the President signaled in his remarks last month that absent an agreement from the government in Khartoum to allow in the AU-UN force then we are going to take a look at what other measures we might take unilaterally as well as multilaterally and we might look at what else could be done in the Security Council. We're not to the point of announcing any such measures, but we have not seen any movement from the Government of Sudan on the big question, so we'll have to stay tuned.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I'm perplexed by your statement that you don't have a copy of the Amnesty International report because it's on their website and it's listed under "latest news." It's one of the most prominent things up there. I mean, I could understand it if the Sudan person who tracks this at the State Department hadn't had time to read it and review it this morning, but I don't understand why they wouldn't have actually pulled it down and had a copy of it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I can't tell you, Arshad. I don't look at the Amnesty International website every day, so I can't tell you. But look, I can only tell you what is conveyed to me by the people who follow these things on a daily basis. You know --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) website.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Anyway, I'm sure we'll take the suggestion and take a look at it.

Okay, yes.

QUESTION: Sorry, on North Korea, there is an editorial in The Washington Post which highlights the fact that it's been 24 days since the April 14th deadline. There's been no movement by the North Koreans. They claim that all North Korea has managed to do is to draw more concessions from the U.S. Are you still confident that North Korea intends to abide by its denuclearization commitments? You said yourself that you're not willing to wait an infinite amount of time, so --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: How much longer are you willing to wait on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll let you know. For the time being, we are willing to give this process a little more time. Everybody shares the sense that we wish that we had been able to move beyond this point, but we haven't been up until now. And the North Korean Government has reassured us multiple times throughout this entire period that they are, in fact, committed not only to the September '05 agreement, but the February 13th agreement as well.

And there are indications that they are actively working to resolve the BDA issue. We have said that we're going to give them a little time and space to do that. It's incredibly complicated and arcane, so it has taken much longer than anybody would have expected. What we want to do is get past this particular issue so we can return to the six-party talks, regain some of that momentum, and actually get down to the business of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, because that's ultimately what this is all about.

QUESTION: And just to follow up what you were saying about they're actively working to resolve the BDA issue, is the U.S. pushing for them to start shutting down Yongbyon while they're trying to resolve the BDA issue or are you willing to wait until the BDA issue is resolved?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, obviously, the North Korean Government can take steps on its own volition to begin shutting down the Yongbyon reactor and sealing the Yongbyon reactor. I know that they have had some contacts with the IAEA, so there hasn't been a total absence of action in that regard on the issue of Yongbyon.

What we would like to see is the BDA issue in everybody's rearview mirror so I don't have to answer these questions every single day -- that's just from a purely parochial standpoint -- and really get down to the serious matter of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and plus, Chris Hill hasn't been to Beijing for a while, so I'm sure he's itching to get back.

QUESTION: Same subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: On the same subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we'll go back here and we'll come up.

QUESTION: Just one follow-up on what you said to her question, then I have another question. The IAEA, has there been any contact since the initial contact back in February?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think there -- you can check with the IAEA, but I think there has been some subsequent contact.

QUESTION: There has been some?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. And secondly, are you --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they would describe it more as informal in its manner, but yeah -- some contact, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. And on the Washington Post article once again --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: It keeps on saying that there are -- the Administration has made concessions after concession after concession in giving back all of the money, unfreezing the accounts, working to help transfer. Do you look at these -- does the Administration look at these as concessions or is this part of your obligation as your commitment to resolve the BDA issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's worth stepping back for a second. The -- let's remember what was -- the issue for the United States Government was the behavior of Banco Delta Asia and its ultimate -- it was ultimately determined that it was a -- part of an ongoing money laundering concern in contravention of U.S. law as well as inter -- customary practices of the international financial system.

So the action was against the Banco Delta Asia. The idea was never to "seize the assets" of Banco Delta Asia. How those -- once the Treasury issued its rule regarding BDA, it was up to the account holders as well as the regulatory authorities in Macau and China how to dispense of the assets that were in BDA. So that -- it ceased to become a U.S. Government issue at that point, as we talked about.

Now since then, we have tried to offer our advice to the various parties in as much as it's asked for regarding any potential transfer of funds out of BDA to some other financial institutions. So that, I expect, is something that the Treasury Department will be involved in as this process unfolds and as appropriate. But beyond that, it is not -- it hasn't been the U.S. Government that has been in charge of how these assets are dispensed out of BDA.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The president of BDA published a statement today saying that actually, they had known for a while, since 1994, that the North Koreans were laundering money in their bank. And so they alerted you that -- they alerted the U.S. and the U.S. asked them to keep the North Koreans as customers to be able to keep an eye on them, but now they feel cheated.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. No, I saw that and what I have been told is that this particular allegation has been made as part of a filing with the Treasury Department by Mr. Au and -- or his representatives. And it's -- I further understand that it's going to be reviewed in due course, in an appropriate manner by officials at Treasury and wherever else they might review those things. So, inasmuch as it's part of an official filing, I really can't offer any further comment, other than to say people are going to look at it.

QUESTION: But you don't deny.

MR. MCCORMACK: I -- yeah, people are going to look at it. I can't vouch for the accuracy of what he said, I'm not trying to, you know, I'm not trying to turn you away from it, but I can't vouch for the accuracy and people are going to be reviewing it.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I change topics to the Fort Dix plots?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Three of these individuals that have been picked up; is it correct that they have been living in the U.S. for quite some time legally? Do you have any information on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you. You can check with the FBI and law enforcement authorities. I don't have any information on this.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on the plot itself or the arrest?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I don't. Sorry, I can't help you.

Okay.

Yeah, we'll get to you, Lambros, don't worry. I haven't forgotten you. We're going to go over here. We'll get back to you.

Go ahead, Kirit.

QUESTION: A question for you on Afghanistan actually.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Pentagon has said something today regarding payments to families of those that were killed in an unfortunate incident about a month ago. And I know this is a more-- that's more of a military issue, but I was wondering if you had anything to say about your public diplomacy efforts. This certainly can't be helping that -- these types of incidents.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, everybody regrets when there's innocent loss of life, you know, whether we -- whether that's in acts committed by the Taliban or terrorists in Afghanistan or people -- innocent people caught in the crossfire of military operations. All I can tell you is that we take every possible step that we can to ensure that when our military conducts an operation that innocent civilians aren't put at risk. It's an inherently risky business fighting this kind of -- these kinds of battles against the Taliban and al-Qaida as well as other violent extremists and occasionally there is loss of innocent life. And when there is, we try to do what we can, and do the best we can by the Afghan people and those who have lost loved ones. Whatever we do, it's not going to bring them back. And I'm sure, whatever compensation that people receive, they'd rather -- they rather have their loved one back, but it's not something we can do.

All we can do is try to explain to the Afghan people -- and I know our military does this, and NATO does this, our Embassy does this -- is that we're there working on their behalf, so that we can help them build a different kind of country.

QUESTION: How do these events affect your efforts to win the hearts and minds of the people in Afghanistan?

MR. MCCORMACK: I -- well, to the extent that people understand that we're working there on -- working on their behalf, I think in the long run they understand that these actions -- any loss of innocent life isn't intentional on our part and that we certainly hope that they understand that.

I can't tell you on the ground exactly how people will react. You know, if I were in their position, I -- certainly I can see how they would be quite upset at the loss of a loved one. You know, you can't replace that. But the only thing we can do is try to help them understand that we are actually working on their behalf to help them and their families and their children build a better country for themselves.

Yeah.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about Secretary Rice's decision not to go to Israel and the Palestinian areas now, and if there's any connection with the reactions, especially from Hamas, some Israelis, to the benchmark proposal that's been floated.

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Look, you know, anything, you know, any visit -- any visits that are planned and scheduled are always done in consultation with the Israeli Government. I, you know, talked a little bit yesterday about this. And look -- we're continuing to work as we speak with the government of Prime Minister Olmert, as well as our partners on the Palestinian side, President Abbas, on ways to move forward the Israeli-Palestinian track. And that's going to continue.

I expect Secretary Rice is going to be back visiting Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority in the not-too-distant future. On this particular trip, she's going to Moscow, and she might make a couple other stops in the region, but that doesn't mean that we are not working actively with Prime Minister Olmert's government and the Palestinians to move the process forward.

As far as the benchmarks are concerned, that's going to be an iterative process. We're going to work with the Israeli side. We're going to work with the Palestinian side. Each side is probably going to want to make additions and subtractions to it, but it's meant as a vehicle, it's meant as a mechanism to try to address some of the practical problems that are before them, and shared problems that are before them. They both have an interest in stopping Qassam rocket attacks going into Israel. We want to talk to them about them how they can, in practical ways, work together to stop those. We want to talk to them about ways to ease the daily plight of the Palestinian people, you know, for example, with checkpoints and roadblocks and that sort of thing.

So it's meant as a mechanism to try to accomplish some practical things so you can start to (a) improve life for both the Israelis and Palestinians, but also (b) build up some confidence that the Israeli and Palestinian sides can work well together on various issues through to a conclusion. And that maybe helps give them a little bit more confidence that they're able to work through some of the more difficult political issues eventually. So that's -- nothing more or less to it than that.

QUESTION: You're not afraid that there's going to be some undermining of Olmert? I know that there's some consideration about the political situation there and that he's so far holding on to his coalition. He's going to Jordan and yet she's not going to be there at this moment -- if that's going to have some, you know -- send some message?

MR. MCCORMACK: I -- we have confidence in Israel's democracy. And all I can tell you is that we are continuing to work with Prime Minister Olmert and his government on issues of mutual concern and of concern to the Israeli people.

Yeah, way back there.

QUESTION: Can I get back to the Foreign Service issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: You mentioned that over time, several hundred more diplomatic posts will be shifted. Do you expect there'll be more shifted out of Germany?

MR. MCCORMACK: Out of Germany?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't anticipate it at this point, no. Dan Fried has given at the office. He reminds us of that quite often.

Yeah, Mr. Gollust.

QUESTION: Sean, the parliament of Serbia has elected as their speaker a guy, Mr. Nikolic, who is described as a political successor to Milosevic. He's a very strident opponent of them ceding away Kosovo. I wonder if you see this as complicating diplomacy out there.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think what we see as complicating some of the diplomacy out there is some of the language that was used during the parliamentary debate, it was part of the electoral process of Mr. Nikolic. It apparently, according to the reports that I have, hearkened back to some of the bad old days of hate speech during the Milosevic era when people were talking about trying to separate people into traitors and patriots. Nobody wants to see individuals trying to whip up nationalism in destructive ways. That doesn't help Serbia. That doesn't help this process move forward and to help build a more stable Balkan region. So what we would hope is that in the wake of this particular parliamentary debate that emotions cool, that the rhetoric be toned down and that parliamentarians and Serbian leaders focus on how to better integrate Serbia into the rest of the world into Europe as well as to help build a more stable Balkan region.

QUESTION: The Secretary spoke earlier today with the Foreign Minister of Albania. I'm wondering what her message to him was vis--vis Kosovo.

MR. MCCORMACK: They talked about -- they talked a little bit about the current situation, the current state of play in the diplomacy. This is less the Secretary than the Albanian Foreign Minister and they didn't spend a lot of time on it. But the main message that the Secretary heard from the Albanian Foreign Minister was that they were actively working to counsel the Kosovars to be patient as well as not resort to any sort of actions or speech that incites tensions or increases tensions in the region.

QUESTION: May I follow up?

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, yes. I had a feeling that you might.

QUESTION: That was the complete readout because you were present up to the last minute?

MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?

QUESTION: Is that the complete readout since you were there up to the last minute?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Well, in terms of Kosovo -- he asked about Kosovo, that was --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: They talked about NATO. They talked about Albania's efforts to gain membership to NATO and the Secretary underlined that there is a membership action plan and she encouraged Albania to meet the objectives that were outlined for it and the deadlines outlined for it in that membership action plan. She emphasized that judgments about Albania's efforts are performance based and that she looked forward to coming NATO assessments of how Albania was doing vis--vis the membership action plan. They talked a little bit about Kosovo. They talked a lot about the internal economic and political reforms in Albania as well as Albania's efforts to fight illicit trade and narcotics as well as trafficking in persons.

QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, since Mr. Basha was invited by the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice what was the specific reason for such invitation extended to him to come all the way -- flew from Tirana to Washington for 24-hour visit?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he's new on the job. This is his -- he told the Secretary this is his fourth official day on the job and it's an important time for Southeast Europe, not only for Albania individually vis--vis NATO as well as what happens with the Ahtisaari plan but for the Balkans writ large. It's an important moment and she thought it was important to sit down with a new Albanian foreign minister and get his views on where things stood as well as how Albania saw things unfolding.

QUESTION: Did they discuss ways how they can overcome the objections by Russia as far as for Kosovo to become independent?

MR. MCCORMACK: It was not a detailed discussion of Kosovo.

QUESTION: And the last one, Mr. McCormack, do you have anything on the Albania (inaudible) today in Fort Dix, New Jersey --

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: -- during the (inaudible). You saw that?

MR. MCCORMACK: That was already asked, no.

Kirit.

QUESTION: That was my follow-up, since it came up in the meeting.

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks.

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

DPB #82




Released on May 8, 2007

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