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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 9, 2007

INDEX:

SUDAN

Reports of Attacks in Darfur by Government / Need for End to all Violence
Need for Heavy Support Package for AU/UN Force
Need for a Political Solution / Libya Conference

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

Reports about Israeli Land Seizures

IRAQ

New Embassy Compound / To Be Completed with $592 Million Allocated by Congress
Changes to Contract Specifications / Need for Accommodations for Additional Personnel
Embassy Opening Date / Delays / Punch List Items
Activities of Prime Contractor for Embassy / First Kuwaiti / Office of Inspector General
Congressman Waxman Letter

TURKEY

U.S. Relations with Turkey / Problem of PKK / PKK Attack Unacceptable
Cooperation Between Iraq and Turkey on PKK
Long-Term, Durable Solution Will Not Include Significant Incursions by Turkey Into Iraq
High-Level Meetings Between the U.S. and Turkey
Issue of PKK in Northern Iraq Not New / Effort by U.S. to Bring Iraq, Turkey Together
U.S. Appreciation for General Ralston’s Efforts

NORTH KOREA

Reports of Possible Talks Between the U.S. and North Korea on Food Aid

INDIA

Steps to be Taken by Indian Government Regarding Civilian-Nuclear Cooperation Deal
Sense of Congress Resolution / Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen and Congressman Berman


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:37 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have anything to start it off with, so whoever wants to begin. The floor is open.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the attacks on the -- in Darfur -- the Sudanese Government attacks?

MR. MCCORMACK: I looked into this and we've seen these press reports, but I can't offer you any ground truths, any assessment based on ground truth. We just don't know yet. What we have done is called for an end to all violence in Darfur, whether that is violence committed by the government or committed by rebel groups, committed by the Janjaweed. It has to end.

Now, realistically, in order to help that to happen, we're going to need the heavy support package of the AU/UN force deployed. That is starting to happen, but they're not deployed yet. And one of the dangers in that deployment is when you're at the beginning of it or middle of it, these forces don't necessarily have all of their equipment, they don't necessarily have all of the infrastructure that they might normally have. So it's a particularly important time.

So the real answer to all of these questions is: get the forces in there, address the humanitarian situation and ultimately get a political solution to the situation in Darfur. That is how you're really going to get to the root causes of the violence. But as I said, I don't have any assessment for you based on ground truth, though we do -- we have seen the media reports and we are trying to determine exactly what happened.

QUESTION: So such attacks don’t really bode well for the conference in Libya at the end of this month?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I can't speak to the specifics of it. Sometimes -- sometimes, you may have a situation in which actions in the field are disconnected from anything that may be going on in the center that may therefore influence what happens in other capitals with respect to political reconciliation conferences. So without knowing the exact facts here, I can't necessarily make that connection.

Now, it does stand to reason, if there is ongoing violence, no matter who is committing it, that makes the situation more difficult. It also makes it all the more important, however, (inaudible) push to get a political solution going.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the decision of Israel to order the confiscation of Arab land outside East Jerusalem?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm 0 for 2. We don't have any information in terms of -- from -- information from the Israeli Government or anything from the ground that I can offer you on that, Sylvie. I have the reports and we're going to look into it.

QUESTION: Do you think it has -- it could hamper the chance -- your efforts before the -- to prepare the international conference on Middle East?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me not go any further down the road without a good set of facts before I answer the question. Once we get some facts, I'm happy to provide you an answer.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on the situation with the embassy in Baghdad? When's it going to be finished? Is it true that it is, in fact, $144 million over budget and that while the contract is a fixed ceiling contract, that this $144 million is going to be disguised in some kind of other -- well, because that's the implication that has been made by some.

MR. MCCORMACK: I see. Who is "some"?

QUESTION: Some people. I'm looking at a 10-page letter here from Chairman Waxman, your favorite person.

MR. MCCORMACK: See now, we work -- we work well with Chairman Waxman and his committee. I'm just going to go through a couple of the facts here as they've been presented to me.

The new embassy compound will be completed with the $592 million originally appropriated by Congress. So what I talked about last week is accurate.

Now, the specifications for the new embassy compound were finally set and agreed upon back in 2004. Since that time, there have been some changes to the requirements. So you have the original contract specifications laid out, $592 million, fixed price; anything related to those costs and that plan, anything over and above that is borne by the contractor.

What we did is we asked for additional requirements over and above the original contract specifications, and those were driven by a few things. We needed to have more additional secure office space for civilian and military personnel and accommodations for additional civilian personnel. In response to the changed requirements that I was talking about, we decided that we were going to make these additions.

There's also another requirement that wasn't envisioned or it was not asked for back in 2004, and that was to continue the current co-location of the American Ambassador and the Commander of Multinational Forces in Iraq. So you can imagine, if you have that additional requirement after the contract is let, that's going to require more office space and more living space.

So that's where you get the additional requirements. So it's not a cost overrun. It's an additional contract requirement. And I'll check for you, Matt, to see if the $144 million figure is accurate. I'm not going to dispute it, but I just want to check to make sure that it is accurate.

QUESTION: Sir -- oh, sorry.

QUESTION: Well, okay. So when's it going to be done? I missed that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Same answer as I gave -- as I gave last week. I don't have a fix on that. I can't tell you that it won't be in the near future, but I also can't give you a date.

QUESTION: Well, has the Secretary asked?

MR. MCCORMACK: We -- it is --

QUESTION: Even the --

MR. MCCORMACK: It is a question that is being actively pursued by senior-level management of the Department.

QUESTION: And OBO cannot give an answer?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have an answer for you, Matt. I --

QUESTION: Does that mean -- but does that mean that they have been unable to give an answer or does that mean that you -- they just haven't told you?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we don't have an answer. They don't -- I can't tell you when it will open up.

QUESTION: Is this -- is this okay with the Secretary?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you now, look; she is willing to cut everybody involved in the current construction project some slack if it is -- falls within a reasonable period of time and it falls within the normal practices of opening up a large embassy compound around the world, if it's consistent with our past practices. Everybody understands that's been involved in any sort of construction project, whether it's very small to very, very large, in a complex environment that sometimes when you are looking at the inspection you find things that aren't quite up to standard. Happens everywhere. And it will take some time to fix those.

Now, the question becomes -- and this is the -- this is what is in the Secretary's mind -- do you get yourself in a circumstance where the delays in opening from the original target date become outside what one might reasonably expect for this kind of construction project in this kind of work environment? At this point, Matt, I think we were -- what, in September -- September was the opening, the intended opening date. We're here in the first week or so of October.

QUESTION: Second.

MR. MCCORMACK: Or so. And I think it is reasonable to believe that that is within normal practices with respect to this kind of construction project. There will come a point, if the embassy isn't opened up and doesn't meet the standards that have been required of the contractor, then you have a problem. I can't tell you when that point is going to be. I don't have a date yet when they can tell me that this is going to open up. I can't tell you that it's not going to be in the not-too-distant future, but I can't -- also can't give you a date.

QUESTION: Can you -- excuse me. Are you done, Matt?

QUESTION: Well, I want to ask specifically about the problems that have been outlined in this letter and outlined in stories over the last couple days about the wiring and the fire sprinkler system.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right. There have been a number of different punch list items. I don't -- you know, I think among them were sprinkler systems and some wiring. I can't tell you that that is an exhaustive list, that there -- you know, there are likely some more items on the list. But anytime you have a large construction project you have -- you have punch list items. And we shall see in, I would hope, the not-too-distant future whether or not this -- these delays fall outside the norms that one might expect for this kind of project.

QUESTION: They're talking about these inspectors finding hundreds of violations and problems so severe and widespread that none of the buildings in the compound can be approved for occupancy. I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the fact of the matter is you can't occupy -- we're not going to occupy any of it until it's been signed off on. And look, we're not disputing the idea that we haven't signed off on accepting the building or the embassy. We're not going -- we're not going to buy ourself a turkey here. We're going to make sure that we get what we paid for and that is what is -- that's the Secretary's standard is we, you know, we want to get what we paid for.

QUESTION: Well, how does this square, though, with what General Williams said in testimony in July that it was on -- it was going to be completed by the end of September?

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, I can't tell you that it's not going to be open in the not-too-distant future.

QUESTION: Well that's --

MR. MCCORMACK: I know, let's --

QUESTION: You can't say -- you can't tell me or anybody. You can't tell the Hill. I mean, no one seems to be able to tell any -- be able to tell anyone when it's going to open. And I think that's a problem, is it not?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you got me, Matt. It's -- you know, I can't tell you when it is going to open right now. I would very much like to tell you when it is going to open, to give you a date certain. I can't tell you that right now. And at a certain point, if we keep having these conversations well into the future, well into 2008, then that's a problem. And I would expect that it is something the Secretary would want some answers to. Certainly, it's something that she is watching, she is aware of it. But at this point, I can't tell you when it's going to open up.

Yeah.

QUESTION: There was another issue that Chairmen Waxman raises is that the contractor – the prime contractor -- managing partner of First Kuwaiti was apparently involved in some illegal kickback -- kickback scheme over a subcontract. And apparently -- well, what Waxman says is that this is an example of a lack of oversight of the State Department of your prime contractor. I wondered if you had any comment on that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I know that there have been numerous -- numerous looks into the operations of this particular contractor. I can't speak to any particular outcomes, usually those are handled by the Office of the Inspector General and they have a separate relationship with the Hill and as is been -- as is normal with the rest of the bureaucracy here in the State Department.

QUESTION: So you have no comment then on this illegal kickback?

MR. MCCORMACK: I understand what you're asking --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: You're asking me about, you know, some specific in a 14-page letter. I can't even tell you that we've received that letter at the Department. You'll be shocked to learn that sometimes here in Washington the press gets the letters before the actual executive department. So let's take a look at the -- look at the Department. I'm sure Chairman Waxman can expect a detailed response as we respond to all of -- all of his missives.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, can you just clarify that money again. Is it possible or impossible right now to say how much the additional requirements will cost in the embassy project?

MR. MCCORMACK: I just don't have that figure in front of me. I'm sure somebody with the green eyeshades has an estimate. I just don't have it here in front of me. I'm not disputing the $144 million figure, but I just can't confirm it for you. If we can do that sometime this afternoon, I'm happy to put that out for you guys.

QUESTION: And also in terms of the numbers of people concurrent with the co-location of the military commander, how many more people are we talking about and how many more --

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll get that for you.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say, Sean, that the Secretary's losing patience with this or is it not at that point yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let's see, Matt. Let's see exactly how much slippage we have here. At this point, we don't have an answer to that question. So I think the answer to that -- the precise answer to that question depends upon what the expected date is --

QUESTION: Well, surely she can't be happy that it's not -- it's two weeks late, I mean, not that that falls into the normal range of delays or whatever.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, she is a manager of a global enterprise, and she is -- she understands the fact that when you have complex construction projects in a very difficult work environment, you do sometimes have a bit of slippage to the right. Of course, does everybody prefer that this would be up and running and open and fully functioning and our people would be able to be moving in? Of course, everybody wishes that.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: But we're also dealing with reality here, and this is not a matter of government contractors or private contractors. You have this in the private sector as well as in the public sector. The question is: How far to the right will this slide? We don't know yet. And the answer to your question about whether or not people are unhappy about that will depend on exactly how far to the right this slides.

QUESTION: Right. And then – in one line here. How would you react to this statement by Waxman that says it would appear to be gross incompetence if the Department's senior management were unaware of defects at the embassy when they testified before the committee in July.

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, let me -- let us actually read the letter and we'll provide Congressman Waxman a response.

QUESTION: So --

MR. MCCORMACK: You have a 14-page letter in front of you.

QUESTION: Well --

MR. MCCORMACK: I have not seen it and I doubt anybody in this building has seen it yet. So --

QUESTION: It's only ten pages.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, a 10-page letter. The last one, I think, was 14 or 15. So do us the courtesy of allowing us a few minutes to actually read all of --

QUESTION: All right. Well, then more generally, if you don't want to talk about the gross incompetence allegation, more generally, he says -- he says that increasingly it appears that the State Department's efforts --

MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible) actually down here who knows --

QUESTION: -- in Iraq are in disarray --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- rather than somebody --

QUESTION: Are the State Department's efforts in Iraq in disarray? This is -- he -- this is not just the embassy. This is the Blackwater situation and the corruption --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Matt, that is just a ridiculous statement. I'm sorry.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Sir, just one more on this. Within the contract, do you have a clause that the company has to pay for every day it's delayed past the target date? Because a lot of people have those in housing contracts and other things.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Oh, let me get the contract.

QUESTION: That would be useful, yeah. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: What do you know? I don't have it here with me.

QUESTION: Well, for every day that they delay, I mean, do they have to pay, I don't know, $100,000 or $200,000 or I don't know? It's a common practice.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm happy to have somebody flip through the contract and provide an answer for you.

QUESTION: That would be great, thanks.

MR. MCCORMACK: There you are.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, indeed.

QUESTION: Do you have any problem on Turkish-American relations in these days?

MR. MCCORMACK: On what?

QUESTION: Any problem on Turkish-American relations in these days? What is the most important difference or difficulty on relations? How and when the United States take full steps to eliminate PKK in northern Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, we have a very good relationship with our NATO ally and a very good relationship with this government. And the problem with the PKK is a shared concern. We share the concerns of the Turkish Government as well as the Turkish people. And that is why we have been working so hard -- the Turkish Government and the Iraqi Government -- to try to find a solution to what is just an unacceptable problem. I know that the Turkish people lost 15 people in an attack yesterday. That's a terrible tragedy. More were injured. And that's unacceptable. We understand that.

But the way to resolve the situation is to work cooperatively with the Iraqi Government and others -- others concerned. And that is what -- that is what we are trying to promote, and we think we're getting a good reception from the Turkish Government to that idea as well as to the Iraqi Government.

The problem of the PKK and its operations is not a new one. It didn't arise just over the past four years. It's been a problem Turkey with -- Turkey has been dealing with for some time. What you have now, though, in Iraq is really a partner who's ready to deal with the issue. And we're working as best we can to bring together Turkey and Iraq to help eliminate this problem of terrorism.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, today the High Commission for combating terrorism has taken some decisions countering the PKK, including one decision which allows the armed forces to do cross-border operations. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Without knowing the specific details of what was or was not authorized, as a general principle, we have counseled both Iraq as well as Turkey that the way to address the issue is to work cooperatively. In our view, it is not going to lead to a long-term, durable solution to have -- to have significant incursions from Turkey into Iraq. We've said this for some time. It's not new. So our focus is going to be working with each side, with the Turks, with the Iraqis, and encouraging them to work together on what is a very difficult and persistent problem.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Yes, on that. You said -- you just spoke about significant incursion into Iraq. So a limited incursion would be okay?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, look, you can't -- in the course of military operations, you know, I can't account for every person in every unit at every time. Can I tell you that in the course of fighting the PKK there haven't been some small incursions into Iraq? You can talk to the Turkish Government. I'm not in a position to confirm those sorts of things.

But what we're talking about in terms of the press reports are talks of -- talks of large incursions into Iraq. We have said for some time -- many months now -- that we don't believe that that is the solution.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any high-level meetings going on between you and the Turks right now?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I know Ross Wilson, our Ambassador, is engaged with the Turkish Government on this.

QUESTION: On this specific issue? What about on --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. On the --

QUESTION: -- on other issues? I know that you're quite concerned about the vote tomorrow in the House.

MR. MCCORMACK: We are. We have been. Nick Burns has been working on that. I think that he has talked with Turkish officials here, yeah.

QUESTION: And you're expecting -- or your Embassy is expecting demonstrations and that kind of thing. What -- are there security precautions being stepped up?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's -- that's up to the folks on the ground to do what they think is appropriate. If they feel like they need to beef up security in some way, either on our end or request something from the Turks, I'm sure that we'll get cooperation from the Turkish Government.

QUESTION: But right now, as of now, you're not aware that that's --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of it. It's not an issue that I've really followed this morning.

Gollust, congratulations on the --

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- win by the Indians over the Yankees.

QUESTION: In light of the new focus on this issue, can you give some clarity to the situation of General Ralston? You know, he was reported --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we'll get you an answer.

QUESTION: I didn't ask about this last week, but I was going to ask about -- back to the incursion question and the Prime Minister's so-called green light today.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What you've said you've been saying not for months but for years now, (inaudible) years about the need for them to work with the Iraqis, and it doesn't seem like it's working. So how could you say that -- just keep encouraging them to work together? Obviously, it's not enough. General Ralston, whatever his reasons for resigning were, was clearly frustrated with the difficulty of the situation. So what exactly do you think Turkey and Iraq can do in the north to avoid incursions into northern Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Nicholas, we don't think that there is an alternative. We don't think there's an alternative to working together. And just because you haven't come up with a solution to date doesn't mean you stop trying.

QUESTION: What exactly -- working together means what exactly? That's what I don't understand.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are all sorts of different things and I'm not going to try to get inside of the discussions between Turkey and Iraq. But cooperative means working to share information, working so that your actions are complementary to one another on either side of the border. There are a lot of different things one might do. But again, I'm not going to try to go down the laundry list of things that they are --

QUESTION: But the point is if -- well, the Turks say there is a presence of the PKK across the border, so what you are saying is that instead of staging incursions into Iraqi territory, the Turkish can work with the government in northern Iraq and contain the PKK or not allow it to engage in terrorist acts against Turkey?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we view the PKK as a terrorist organization.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: And the whole idea here is to fight terrorism. We encourage the Iraqis to do that. We encourage the Turks to do that as well. Look, the issue with the PKK and northern Iraq is one that goes back some time. I was in Turkey in 1996 and 1998. It was a problem then. So it's not something that is new. I think what you see -- what is new is an effort by the United States Government to bring these two sides together, so when you look at how long there -- how long the problem has existed and exactly how long we have tried this kind of effort working with the Turkish Government, a true partner in the Iraqi Government, and the United States Government, it's a relatively short period of time.

So look, everybody wishes that you didn't have incidents like you had yesterday. Nobody wants to see that. But just because we haven't succeeded to this point in stopping those kinds of incursions and going after the presence of the PKK in northern Iraq doesn't mean you stop trying.

QUESTION: And one last one. When General Ralston was appointed, what was his mandate and did he achieve it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, he put in a yeoman's effort in working on this issue. And for his own reasons he decided that he was going to be moving on. We appreciate everything that he has done. Any continuing presence of the PKK or the continuing activities of the PKK is not because what he did or did not do. He did a great job. We haven't gotten to a solution yet and we're continuing to look for the solution.

QUESTION: Sean, do you believe that the United States is responsible just to bring -- to get Iraqis and Turks together, nothing else?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we're active participants in this. It's not as if we're, you know, cheerleaders on the sideline. We are actively involved in this. And quite clearly, as we have said many times over, the PKK is a terrorist organization and we consider it as such.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any plans to replace General Ralston soon? Are you looking around for someone new or --

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, I'm not aware of anybody. I don't necessarily know of every personnel machination ongoing in the Department.

QUESTION: Would you like to do it? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Oh, actually one more on -- South Korea is -- South Korea says the U.S. is looking to have talks very soon with North Korea on food aid, on substantive new food aid. I wondered whether you had anything.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any such plans. Oh, and by the way, I was led astray by Chris -- none other than Chris Hill as to the departure time of the team. They are actually leaving today, just to correct the record for you guys.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Gollust.

QUESTION: Yes, on the U.S.-India nuclear issue. Mohamed ElBaradei is in India. He says that India hasn't approached him to begin talks on safeguards that would --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- that are part of this. And I wonder if that's something that troubles the United States in any way.

MR. MCCORMACK: There are a number of different steps that will need to be taken in order to finally conclude all aspects of this agreement. It's going to be up to the Indian Government to go through some of those steps on their own. There are some things that they will need to do by themselves. Of course, we support them in those efforts. The timing of that is going to be up to them, though.

QUESTION: Also there was a sense of the Congress resolution, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen and Congressman Berman put some restrictions seemingly on what the United States can do vis-à-vis India. I'm wondering if that's something that similarly is a matter of concern for you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we saw it. We took a look at it and we're going to keep working with not only those two representatives but others in the Congress to move forward on this deal. They're important voices and they have raised some issues. And we want to be able to -- we want to engage them to be able to reassure them of the importance of this deal, not only for the U.S. Government but for our nonproliferation efforts worldwide.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)

DPB # 177



Released on October 9, 2007

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