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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 9, 2008



Dinner Meeting of Secretary Rice and Senator Clinton
Details of Dinner Meeting


Image of United States Abroad
U.S. Works to Maintain Open, Transparent, Global Connections


Misinformation Regarding Source of Mumbai Attacks


Constructive Tone from Both Countries Regarding Mumbai Attacks
Both Focused on Bringing Those Responsible to Justice/ Preventing Future Attacks


High Threat to Pakistan from Extremists and Terrorists


Cholera Cases / Humanitarian Crisis / USAID Assistance
Zimbabwe’s Problems Cannot be Solved without Remedying Political Situation
Root of Crises is Failure of Mugabe Regime / Failure to Step Down
Power-sharing Agreement / Mugabe Did Not Act in Good Faith
Important Role of South Africa and Regional Neighbors


Chris Hill’s Meetings/ Other Actions in Region
Food Aid / U.S. Dual Responsibility of Addressing Humanitarian Issue and Being Good Stewards of American Taxpayer Resources
No Interest in Using Hungry People as Bargaining Chips


View Video

10:42 a.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning, everybody.

QUESTION: Good morning.

MR. MCCORMACK: How are you?


MR. MCCORMACK: Good. I don’t have anything to start off with, so who wants to go first?


MR. MCCORMACK: All right. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: A readout on the dinner between the outgoing Secretary of State and the incoming one?


QUESTION: You’ve confirmed that as --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, last night they had dinner. Secretary Rice invited Secretary-designate Clinton, Senator Clinton – not sure which title she prefers right now – over to her apartment at the Watergate. They had a two-hour dinner. They – I’m not going to get into the details or the real substance of the conversation. That’s going to remain private between the two. The Secretary said that she was going to provide her advice to Senator Clinton in private. She had an opportunity last night to do that, and I expect it’s probably – it’s the first of several of these meetings.

They talked just very generally about policy, the challenges, the opportunities, talked a little bit about the job of Secretary of State, talked about, you know, the, quote, unquote, “building” here. You know, it’s managing a big operation. And that was really about it. That’s sort of a general description of it.

QUESTION: Is there anything scheduled? You said it’s the first of several. I mean, is anything --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, nothing else scheduled. And again, you know, this is going to be up to the two of them to figure out how many times they get together. But yeah, they have a good, easy relationship, you know, that Secretary Rice likes to note that actually goes back some time. When Secretary Rice was Provost at Stanford University, Senator Clinton brought her freshman daughter Chelsea out to Stanford and they had an opportunity to meet, have lunch. And they’ve had a relationship, an ongoing relationship since then.

QUESTION: How long was the dinner?

MR. MCCORMACK: About two hours.

QUESTION: Can you give us even a broad brush on the topics? I mean, I – one would guess you would think they would include Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea.

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not going to go any further than I have.

QUESTION: Do you see any --

MR. MCCORMACK: Hold on. Charley.

QUESTION: Just in that context, can you bring us up to date on the transition? How many people are in place, how many meetings there have been, how many documents have been provided to them?

MR. MCCORMACK: You’ll – for most of that information, you’ll have to talk to the folks in the transition office. I -- you know, I want to maintain a policy of allowing them the prerogative of talking about how many folks they have there, who’s there, you know, what meetings they have scheduled.

Now, I put in a different category meetings involving Secretary Rice, and I’ve tried to keep you informed of those, if not before the fact, after the fact. And in terms of the number of documents and meetings – lots. I don’t have a precise number for you.

QUESTION: Same subject?


QUESTION: Sean, do you see or Secretary sees that under the new Secretary Hillary Clinton, anything will change in the Department as far as U.S. image abroad and – because of some of these terrorist activities in the Arab world? You think anything will change under her new administration?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Well, Goyal, I mean that – we’ll have to see which – what policies President-elect Obama and Senator – Senator Clinton pursue as President and Secretary of State, and I suppose it will be up to those who perceive the United States and those policies to make judgments about whether or not the image of the United States has changed.

I will note one thing that, you know, there is this – there’s this common idea out there that, you know, somehow, if we just had a better advertising campaign, that somehow the image of the United States would change. Well, look, we’ve had to do some hard things over the past seven years, and we’ve tried to explain those as best we can. We’ve tried to ensure that we have connections with foreign publics and foreign audiences as best we can.

But you know, I have to tell you that, you know, while I see all the polls and all the rest, if you look at – just -- I’ll give you one indicator: the number of student visas. We’ve seen that steadily increase since it dipped down post-9/11. And I think there are a lot of reasons post-9/11 while – why it did. I think, in part, it became more onerous to try to come to the United States, and there were reasons for that. But we’ve worked really hard to make sure that we keep those connections with the rest of the world and that we work even harder to maintain those connections, make more, and also to try to be as transparent and open as we possibly can in explaining our policies and the reasons behind our policies.

QUESTION: Let me ask you this quickly: Do you see difference between the administration of President Bill Clinton’s image abroad of the U.S. than now under this Administration – eight years then and eight years now?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, they’re apples and oranges – different times, Goyal, you know, and I’m not going to try to get into a competition with any – between administrations. That’s – you know, just not going to do that. And I’ll let historians answer these kinds of – answer these kinds of questions.


QUESTION: Sean, speaking of perceptions, there have been some reports, some editorials and some commentary published in official Syrian newspapers that appear to blame Zionists or Israel or the United States for the Mumbai attacks, and now President Ahmadinejad has also come out with something along similar lines, saying there’s no way that the attacks originated in that region. I’m just wondering if you have anything to say about that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Dis- or misinformation. I haven’t seen the reports. I don’t know which category to place them in. It’s just not true. Just not true. We know who is responsible.

QUESTION: And that is?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we – the – well, I will say only – I will say only, as the Secretary has said, that the attacks originated from Pakistani soil.


QUESTION: To follow up on that, Pakistan said today that they would not hand any suspect over to India if they were – if they are arrested, and they are ready to war in India, to – ready for war in India if New Delhi decided to attack Pakistani territory. Would U.S. be ready to strike itself against – these groups in Pakistani territory to avoid a war between these two nuclear countries?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I haven’t seen these particular quotations. Let me just try to convey to you the sense of the various – or the tone of the various meetings the Secretary had on her recent trip to the region, both on the Pakistani side as well as the Indian side.

And I think the tone – the tone was -- that she heard on both sides was very constructive. And everybody in all the meetings wanted to focus on a couple of things: making sure that those who were responsible for these attacks were brought to justice, and two; to do everything possible to prevent future attacks. You heard that in the public comments, and that was very much the tone in the private meetings.

And we have seen a lot of the news reports about the steps that Pakistan has taken over the past day or so. These are important and positive steps. I’m not going to get out ahead of the Pakistani Government commenting on the specifics of them, but as we understand them, these are good and important steps and could potentially serve the cause of preventing further attacks. Because that’s the last thing – that’s the last thing that either side needs.

QUESTION: But would be – would U.S. be ready to strike to avoid India to do so?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well again, Sylvie, I’m trying to shift you to the focus on the diplomacy here. And I think that – because that’s really where the center of the – the center of gravity of the action is right now. These comments notwithstanding, the center of gravity is really on the diplomacy and effective action to try to bring to justice those responsible and to prevent any further attacks. And I would note in that regard that Pakistan – the steps that have been reported that Pakistan has taken are important in that regard.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.


QUESTION: Sean, there is a call from many fronts that the U.S. should now declare Pakistan a terrorist state because of all these happening affect Pakistan be effective for terrorists.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Goyal, the threat from violent extremists and terrorists is as great to Pakistan as it is to anybody else, to India, to the United States, to other countries around the globe and with interest in that region. So they’ve – we know that the Pakistani Government – all elements of the Pakistani Government understand that.

QUESTION: Sean, are you – is the Bush Administration pursuing sanctions against former members of Pakistani intelligence? There was a report today in The Wall Street Journal about that --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, well –

QUESTION: -- about their connection to Lashkar.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I’m not going to comment, obviously, on any actions with respect – whether it’s the UN or bilaterally that we might take in the financial area. This would fall into the financial area. I assume that’s what you’re talking about. So, post facto, we can perhaps discuss them some more. I’m not trying to steer you one way or the other on these things.

QUESTION: But you’re not denying that there’s a possibility?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not going to – you know, I’m not going to steer you one way or the other. I mean, and the basic reason, generally speaking – and I’m not speaking to any particular report – that we don’t talk about these kinds of things prior to doing them is you worry about asset flight. So, again, I’m not going to try to steer you one way or the other, but just to – for you as well as anybody else who might be listening to explain why it is we don’t get into it beforehand, that’s the reason why.


QUESTION: A different topic. Any comment on the continuing deterioration in the humanitarian level in Zimbabwe, particularly in light of President Bush’s comments?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it’s tragic. It’s terrible to watch. We heard a report just this morning upstairs in the staff meeting that there are about now 14,000 cases of cholera. And sadly, we expect that number to rise.

We have tried to take some steps to try to address the immediate humanitarian crisis that is ongoing there, and by allocating, I think – what is it, $400,000 – $600,000 – $600,000 in USAID assistance specifically to address the cholera threat in Zimbabwe. And that’s in addition – that’s on top of sort of over the years the $4 million that we have spent on water treatment projects in Zimbabwe.

So it’s – the issue here is the humanitarian crisis and to try to ameliorate that, to solve it. Fundamentally, you’re not going to – you’re not going to solve all of Zimbabwe’s problems without a resolution to the longstanding political crisis in Zimbabwe. That’s what is really at the root of this, and we’re seeing now the sad aftereffects and follow-on effects of that crisis.

QUESTION: Does President Bush’s comments today that it’s time for Mugabe to leave, does that signal a new diplomatic stance by the United States, from your perspective?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don’t think so. I recall some things that I said in this briefing room several months ago during the debate about a UN Security Council resolution and talking about those people arguing against this resolution and action being on the wrong side of history. I think President Bush’s statement is a simple, declarative statement; it speaks for itself. I don’t think there’s any dispute except perhaps among those around President Mugabe that the root of the various crises in Zimbabwe right now is the failure of leadership of Mr. Mugabe and the failure for him to exit the political scene.

QUESTION: Do you – the Secretary has called for him to step down last week. The President did so today. Do you – where should – where would you like to see him go, or do you care?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there’s --

QUESTION: I mean, is it – what I’m getting at is --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, I understand.

QUESTION: Could he stay in Zimbabwe and not be a problem?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Matt, I don’t think at this point, in public, I’m at the point of prescribing specific actions.

QUESTION: Well, you’re – you want him to leave, it’s time for him to go, and get out, and all this other stuff.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Zimbabwe – let’s just put it this way. Zimbabwe needs to move – be able to move forward, free from the political shackles of its past. And the Zimbabwean people have spoken through an election. Unfortunately, that voice was quashed by the government. So I’ll just put out as a matter of principle that it’s important for Zimbabwe to be able to move forward.

QUESTION: Does that mean that he has to leave the country, though?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I’m not going to – it’s time for him to go.

QUESTION: Well, it certainly means that the United States is no longer interested in promoting any kind of power sharing?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, we in good faith supported the full implementation of that power-sharing agreement. Now, the MDC has abjured that power-sharing agreement because it wasn’t being implemented because Robert Mugabe and his government did not act in good faith in implementing that power-sharing agreement. So at the end of the day, that was a sham. It was just one more feint to try to stay in power. And it’s hard to see Zimbabwe being able to lift itself out of this crisis with the help of the international system with Robert Mugabe still there.

QUESTION: Sean, you know, the Secretary, in particular, has repeatedly talked about the importance of the neighbors --


QUESTION: -- the south African nations.


QUESTION: And I wonder what either she or the President have done recently to try to get South Africa, which has more leverage than the United States does in this part of the world, to try to speed the way for Mugabe to go.

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ve been in regular contact with South Africa as well as the neighbors. And you rightly point out that SADC, and in particular South Africa, have a potentially important role to play in seeing Zimbabwe move forward. They have – what’s the best way to put it? I think they have unused leverage at this point that they could bring to bear. And we would hope that they, as well as others, would bring to bear whatever leverage, political leverage, that they might have to help the situation.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary talked to Foreign Minister Zuma recently?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not recently. Not recently, no.

QUESTION: And do you know whether – and this is a question we can ask at the White House, but you might know whether the President has reached out to Mbeki recently?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know the answer to that.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Do you have any sort of update on the Six-Party Talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing more than you’ve heard from Chris. I think he’s talked to the press out in Beijing. I think the Chinese have circulated a paper among all the parties regarding the verification protocol, I guess initialing or signing on to the verification protocol. So they’re still discussing that, but there’s a piece of paper that everybody’s looking at.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. consult with the Chinese ahead of issuing the proposal?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I think Chris had a series of meetings in the run-up to the plenary session, including with the Chinese and the South Koreans and the Japanese and the Russians as well. And then during the plenary meeting, there are all sorts of side meetings that go on.

Yeah, Dave.

QUESTION: There’s a familiar-sounding story in the paper this morning concerning North Korea food aid --


QUESTION: -- that the U.S. and North Korea are disagreeing over access and monitoring. But the story quotes a World Food Program director as saying that the North Koreans are fulfilling their obligations under agreements with the WFP and with the U.S. Government --


QUESTION: -- implicitly that it’s the United States’ fault that these shipments are --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I know. I saw Tony’s comments. And look, he’s – he’s a dedicated, fine, international public servant. Look, we want to make this work. We’re trying to make this work. We have dual responsibilities here. We have a – we feel as though we have a responsibility to try to address the humanitarian issue – that is, hungry people in North Korea – put aside political differences that we have. We also have a responsibility to be good stewards of the resources the American taxpayers are devoting to this issue addressing this humanitarian crisis. The bottom line there is making sure that hungry people get the food that has been designated for them. So we’re going to try to send some additional personnel to North Korea in an effort to make it work, so that we can assure ourselves that we are fulfilling those dual responsibilities.

QUESTION: I.e., it’s North Korea’s fault?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, this isn’t finger-pointing time, okay. This is a time to make it work, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to focus on making this work because, you know, there’s – nobody here has an interest in using people who are hungry as chips, as bargaining chips. That’s not what we’re doing.

QUESTION: And did North Korea agree with the arrival of the (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we’re trying to make it – we’re going to try to make this work. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.

QUESTION: Did you already start the negotiations with them?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have an ongoing – I guess, an ongoing process of trying to make this work. And part of this, I think, involves more people – could involve more people.

QUESTION: If you can’t get the more people – I mean, these are longstanding concerns, the monitoring and verification and stuff, right, so --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right. And which, in fairness, other – you know, the WFP included, others in the international community have had. And you know, I think it redounds to our credit as well as others that despite those concerns in the past, we have really tried to go the extra mile to make this work, and we’re continuing that process.

QUESTION: But is there not a possibility that if you don’t get the assurances that you want or the personnel on the ground that you want, that you would not provide the food?

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s not where our head is at right now. We want to make this work. Look, we will focus on the positive and try to make it work.

QUESTION: And do you have an end-of-the-year deadline to make such a decision?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll have to check for you. I don’t know. In terms of money --

QUESTION: For some reason, I believe that it in years past, -- and this may be my memory, but it tends to be sometime in December where you have to announce whether you’re going to respond to a WFP request.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Let me check. We’ll have to see. Off the top of my head, I don’t know.

Yeah. Do you have anything else on North Korea?

QUESTION: Yes. No, a different --

MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead. You had your hand up first.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. To go back to the dinner, one – just one point of clarification. The whole dinner --

MR. MCCORMACK: You guys haven’t asked for a menu. I was prepared. I was prepared to offer up the menu.

QUESTION: What’s on it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, since you asked -- (Laughter) -- sea bass --

QUESTION: Chilean?

MR. MCCORMACK: -- wild rice, mushroom soup, and fruit for dessert.

QUESTION: What kind of fruit? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What kind of rice?

MR. MCCORMACK: Wild rice.

QUESTION: Is that the whole grain?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it was. It was a healthy meal. It was a healthy meal.

QUESTION: Was any alcohol served?

MR. MCCORMACK: Actually, you know, I don’t know. I didn’t ask that question.

QUESTION: And Sean, was it – and the whole time, it was just the two of them? Was anybody else there for any portion of that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nobody else there. Of course, security details teeming in the area, but the only ones in Secretary Rice’s apartment.

QUESTION: Not even you?

QUESTION: Did the Secretary cook?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, not even me.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary cook herself?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, did not.

QUESTION: Oh, so it was a catered affair? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Indeed, indeed.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I have just one question on the aid to Georgia. How much of the one billion promised has actually got there, and has it been used?

MR. MCCORMACK: I will check for you, Lach. Off the top of my head, I don’t know.

QUESTION: There was a report in Foreign Policy magazine that some of it has been loaned to build a fancy hotel and --

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Let me check that. That would probably not be an appropriate use of the funding, but let me check into that for you.

QUESTION: Sounds good.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:05 a.m.)

dpb # 207

Released on December 9, 2008

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