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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 8, 2008



Opening of U.S. Embassy Pristina


Ahmadi-Nejad’s Comments on September 11th Attacks
Ahmadi-Nejad’s Comments that Iran has Installed 6,000 New Centrifuges
Upcoming P-5+1 Political Directors Meeting
P-5+1 / Two Pathways / Incentives and Disincentives
Costs if Iran Continues to Defy International Community


U.S. Position on Recognition of Language and Ethnicity


Assistant Secretary Hill’s Meetings in Singapore / Status of Declaration


Missile Defense Talks / Transparency and Confidence Building Measures


Next Quartet Meeting


View Video

1:50 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the briefing. I don’t have anything – actually, I do have one thing to start with. Lambros, listen up.

Today, the former U.S. office in Pristina became the U.S. Embassy in Pristina. We’re very pleased to be able to have this official re-designation of the office so that it becomes a ceremony. Kosovo dignitaries and local press attended the ceremony. This opening underscores the United States’ goodwill and our desire to build a strong bilateral relationship with Kosovo, and the Embassy will be at the center of our efforts to strengthen our shared commitment to freedom, opportunity, and multiethnic democracy in Kosovo.

And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Ahmadi-Nejad’s remarks that the U.S. used the September 11th attacks as a pretext to attack Afghanistan and Iraq.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I haven’t seen all of his comments, but as a pretext, we went into Afghanistan because that’s where the attack originated. We went after al-Qaida, we went after the Taliban. Afghanistan was a failed state. In terms of the reasons for toppling Saddam Hussein, I think we have talked about those at length and everybody understands very clearly what our reasons for doing that were.


QUESTION: President Ahmadi-Nejad also said today that Iran’s begun --

MR. MCCORMACK: He’s been busy, hasn’t he?

QUESTION: He’s been quite busy, yes –

MR. MCCORMACK: Very busy.

QUESTION: -- that he begun – Iran has begun installing 6,000 new --


QUESTION: -- centrifuges. And then he also said later, about 20 minutes ago or so that Iran has tested a new machine with greater capacity. He – in terms of the nuclear program, he wasn’t --


QUESTION: -- more specific than that, but in light of these statements today, do you think that there should be more punitive actions taken against Iran or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’re, of course, going to be discussing it at an upcoming P-5+1 political directors meeting, that – talking about all of these issues, talking about the incentive side, talking about the disincentive side. What these announcements and pronouncements from the Iranians underscore is the fact that they are still in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions, which have called on them to cease and desist these kinds of activities, yet they continue to poke their finger in the eye of the international community.

Let’s all remember that these Security Council resolutions have the force of international law, so he is not defying the United States, he’s not defying some international – one single state. He’s defying the international community in continuing to take these steps. So we have passed three Chapter 7 resolutions against Iran. They are having an effect on Iran in terms of the economy and opportunity costs for the Iranian economy. And we’re going to continue pursuing the diplomacy related to Iran to try to get them to the table. They have to meet certain conditions in order to do that, but we’re going to continue to pursue this diplomacy actively and vigorously.

And Dan Fried will attend the political directors meeting on our behalf, and I’m not sure if the hosts have announced that yet, but we would expect it in probably mid-April.

QUESTION: Now the P-5+1 has been looking at new incentives or repackaging those incentives to make them more appealing to the Iranian people. What are you looking at specifically in terms of – are you looking at any new incentives? For example, Javier Solana was talking about, you know, certain amounts of fuel, for example, you know.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, I’m not going to – I’m certainly not going to talk about in public what we may be negotiating behind closed doors among the members of the P-5+1. But look, we’re a full and active participant in this process among the P-5+1. You’re going to have different ideas that different states bring to the table. And it’s a matter of just working through those different points of view to arrive at a consensus document. We are fully in agreement with our other partners in the P-5+1 that you have to have two robust pathways in order to provide the Iranians with a choice and that there should be some incentive for them to take a different pathway to choose to shut down their uranium enrichment activities, comply with international obligations. And so there is something positive on the other side, so we’re fully supportive of that, but we also want to make clear, and I think we have, that there are costs that are going to be paid if they continue to defy the international community.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: Sean, do you fundamentally think there’s any reason to believe Ahmadi-Nejad’s claims? Do you think it’s true?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it’s – you know, it’s unclear. I mean, they have, in making these kinds of announcements, tended to follow through in terms of trying to achieve the goals that they have laid out for themselves, whether it’s 3,000 or 6,000 centrifuges. I can’t attest to how many centrifuges they have right now. I can’t attest to how well they may – how well or how efficiently they may be working. And in a sense, that doesn’t really matter. All that matters is they’re continuing to go down this pathway, they’re continuing to defy the international community. So that’s the threshold test here, not whether they have 3,000 or 3,500 or 4,000. It’s the fact that they continue down this pathway.


QUESTION: Well, in a sense, what matters is how quickly these centrifuges can actually produce enriched uranium and how much of it so it can be used for a weapon, which is what – they say that they’re not aiming at actually having a weapon, but you say otherwise. So do you have any estimates on which you might base a concern or a worry that at some point in the next two or three years, they actually are going to have enough enriched uranium to build a weapon?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you’re right to point out there are actually two aspects to this. There’s what matters politically/diplomatically, and in that regard, my answer to Nina holds, the fact that they’re continuing to do this.

There’s a practical aspect to this as well, which gets to the question of how well, how efficiently and how many they have operating. That’s not information that I have at my fingertips. The IAEA may have some estimates. Our intelligence community may have some publicly available information on that matter. They tend to do these estimates every single year in their comprehensive document about proliferation that they put out. Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you what their latest estimate is, but they’re publicly available documents. In any case, I would just repeat whatever number they had out there.

QUESTION: Sean, and you also said that the three sanctions resolutions are having an effect in Iran. The president seems to be able to rally a lot of his people around the pride they feel in having -- being a nuclear power, or how -- as he calls it. And many of the sanctions have not -- they’ve been, obviously, very limited and they haven’t affected perhaps the oil production or the economy on a larger scale. If you’re looking at more punitive actions, then wouldn't you have to actually look at sanctions that affect the economy more than they have now, perhaps so far?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we -- maybe -- and maybe going forward, we can say more about what -- kind of trying to quantify some of these effects on the economy, see if we can do some more for you on that. But essentially, what the effect of the sanction is to raise the cost for the Iranian Government to do certain kinds of business, and certainly make it much, much more difficult for them to abuse the international financial system for their own purposes. And what they do, basically, is exacerbate the effects of the mismanagement of the government of the Iranian economy.

So you already have a case where the government is mismanaging the Iranian economy and you have increasing rates of inflation there and the need for them to dip into some of their reserves in order to fund their budget and to fund the extravagant promises that Ahmadi-Nejad has made to the population. So you already have some significant issues there with respect to their economy, despite record high oil prices.

The effect of the sanctions is to magnify those effects. So you have, in a sense, a multiplier effect. Now, certainly, we don’t want to cause any harm or hardship to the Iranian people. That is not -- it’s not our intention. It’s not the intention of the international community. But they have a government that is making these choices on their behalf, and the choices that the government is making for Iran and the Iranian people is costing the Iranian people. But it is important to note that the sanctions aren’t solely responsible for any increased costs or hardship or effects on the Iranian economy solely. Those are – they’re fundamentally – have fundamentally to do with the way the government is managing the economy. These things just magnify the effects of that mismanagement.


QUESTION: Yes. On FYROM. Mr. McCormack, last night regarding Under Secretary Dan Fried’s remarks during a special press briefing yesterday by the Foreign Press Center, I received the following message in my telephone machine from the DOS official attributed to the Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey: “The U.S. does not confer official recognition on either language or ethnicity in any discussion of Macedonian as a language or ethnicity, so it has no bearing on the resolution between Greece or Macedonia on the name issue. We continue to urge both sides to remain engaged in the (inaudible) process in keeping working toward mutually agreed solution as soon as possible.”

I’m wondering, Mr. McCormack, is that a retraction of whatever Mr. Fried told us yesterday about, that he strongly believes for the existence of the so-called “Macedonia ethnicity and language”?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. We think that Dan’s statement at the Foreign – statements at the Foreign Press Center and this statement are fully consistent.


QUESTION: Has Secretary Rice spoken to Ambassador Hill about his talks in Singapore? And what can we expect in the next 24 hours, if anything?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she did have a chance to talk to Chris, and I think they’ll probably have an opportunity to talk more. He was just – literally, just running to catch a plane to go to Beijing. So he’ll have more opportunity to talk when he gets to Beijing. I would expect over the coming day or two, he’s going to have some consultations in Beijing. Fundamentally, I don’t have anything more to add than what she said just at the press availability earlier today, and that is that, as Chris said, they went beyond their discussions in Geneva and we’ll see what the coming days have to bring. The North Koreans still have some requirements that they have to fulfill. We’ll see if they’ve fulfilled those requirements.

QUESTION: Did they reach an agreement that – you know, between the two of them that they now have to get signed off by Secretary Rice and, you know, the North Koreans?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think there’s some consultations with capitals. We’ll see over the coming days whether or not the North Koreans have been able to meet the requirements of the other six parties.


QUESTION: There have been some reports out of Israel that the Administration here is planning an Arab-Israeli summit next month in Cairo. Is there any truth to that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you mentioned the word, summit, which would mean the involvement of the President, which gets me to the White House, to which I would refer you.


MR. MCCORMACK: There we are. Almost out.


MR. MCCORMACK: All right. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. Foreign Minister Lavrov said today that they would like to have observers at the missile shield sites, you know, all the time, sort of second by second, they can see what's going on. Is this something that you would entertain, having, you know, Russians standing there looking over every single second of activity?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think at the very heart of the continuing discussions about missile defense and the sites in Poland and Czechoslovakia,*[1] at the heart of that discussion really is transparency and confidence-building measures. I'm not going to go any further than, you know, the President has gone and Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates. So, you know, the issue of having some presence at some of the sites -- at the sites is something that is being discussed. I think Secretary Gates has talked about that. But I don't think that it's appropriate for me to get into any more specificity at this point.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I try once more on North Korea? How much closer to a declaration than -- before he talked to North Korean --

MR. MCCORMACK: You didn't catch the Secretary? I'll just have to refer you to what the Secretary said and my answer to Libby.

QUESTION: Sean, the Middle East Quartet, the 17th of April?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) You're really --

QUESTION: Yeah, I know. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: You've really crossed a line here with your colleagues. What can I tell you?

QUESTION: This is a hot topic, of course.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Just -- can you confirm that date, April 17th?

MR. MCCORMACK: What's this?

QUESTION: April 17th, the Middle East Quartet is supposed to meet in Amman. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman has mentioned such a meeting.

MR. MCCORMACK: For Quartet envoys?

QUESTION: For -- it doesn't say. Just the four members of the Quartet are going to discuss --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm happy to check for you. I don't think that would be at the ministerial level. I don't think there's any planned travel at this point on those dates.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right, great.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:03 p.m.)

DPB # 63

* Czech Republic

Released on April 8, 2008

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